Warning issued after pesticide-poisoned nopales from Mexico are found at Stater Bros., other locations

Love eating the Mexican cactus known as nopales? Be careful where you buy them.

State officials on Wednesday, Feb. 14, warned Californians not to eat nopales imported from Mexico and sold at specific retail and wholesale locations including Stater Bros. stores after inspectors discovered unapproved pesticides that can cause poisoning, neurotoxicity and permanent nerve damage.

Routine samples taken from Jan. 23 to 29 found contaminated Opuntia ficus-indica, or nopal cactus paddles, at the Stater Bros. Distribution Center in San Bernardino — the headquarters distribution point for 171 stores throughout Southern California — and five locations in Northern California, state health officials said in a news release Wednesday, Feb. 14.

The produce was packaged under the names Mexpogroup Fresh Produce, Aramburo or Los Tres Huastecos, the release said.

Washing or peeling tainted cactus won’t make it safe to eat, officials said, so anyone who has purchased these products recently should throw them away or return them to the store, and anyone who’s felt ill after eating them should see a health care provider. No illnesses from the cactus have been reported to date.

State officials on Wednesday, Feb. 14, warned Californians not to eat nopales imported from Mexico, packaged as Mexpogroup Fresh Produce, Aramburo or Los Tres Huastecos and sold at certain retail or wholesale sites including Stater Bros. stores, after finding some contained pesticides at levels carrying health risks. (Courtesy of California Department of Public Health)
State officials on Wednesday, Feb. 14, warned Californians not to eat nopales imported from Mexico, packaged as Mexpogroup Fresh Produce, Aramburo or Los Tres Huastecos and sold at certain retail or wholesale sites including Stater Bros. stores, after finding some contained pesticides at levels carrying health risks. (Courtesy of California Department of Public Health)

Stater Bros. Markets spokeswoman Marisa Kutansky said the company received notification of the nopales recall Jan. 30 and determined that only eight cases of the product had been shipped to its stores.

“We identified those specific cases of product but out of an abundance of caution, we decided to destroy all product in all stores as well as all product in our warehouse,” Kutansky wrote in an email. “Furthermore, this product is no longer carried in any of our stores.”

Health officials said that inspectors quarantined or destroyed the tainted nopales they found in distribution centers and on store shelves. However, they believe contaminated nopales may have been sold to more stores in California, Oregon and Nevada.

“Many Californians eat cactus as part of their diet, but the pesticide levels we have found at some specific locations are concerning,” Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Brian Leahy said in the release.

Inspectors detected several pesticides at levels carrying health risks. The pesticides include dimethoate and omethoate as well as monocrotophos and methidathion. The latter two insecticides are banned for use on food in the United States.

Symptoms of acute poisoning from the pesticides can include sweating, headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, hypersalivation, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, Dr. Karen Smith, state health officer and director of the Department of Public Health, said in the release.

In addition to the Stater Bros. Distribution Center, contaminated nopales were found at Rancho San Miguel Markets in Madera, Arteaga’s Food Center in Sacramento, S&L Wholesale Produce in San Francisco, La Monarca Market in Lower Lake and FreshPoint Central California in Turlock, which bills itself as the country’s largest foodservice distributor of fresh produce.

Native to Mexico and the southwestern United States, the young, flattened, leaflike stems or “pads” can be boiled, fried, grilled or blended raw with fruit juice. They’re often sliced into strips and fried with eggs and jalapenos.

The manager at El Ojo De Agua in Riverside, which offers nopales dishes, said the restaurant shouldn’t be affected. They get nopales from Corona Produce in Los Angeles, which wasn’t listed as a location carrying contaminated cactus, said restaurant manager Roberto Cardiel.

Still, he said he planned to call the company to make sure.

“That would be harmful,” he said.

Staff writer Alejandra Molina contributed to this report.

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