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Pesticide-tainted Mexican cactus can make you very ill, warns California Dept of Public Health

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The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has warned the public, Sunday, against eating a particular brand of cactus from Mexico because it contains an unapproved and dangerous pesticide.

Health officials said that a batch of tested cactus pads, also known as "nopales" contain Monocrotophos, a pesticide that is no longer approved for use in the U.S. since 1989. The insecticide is acutely toxic and it is frequently used as a tool for committing suicide. It can also lead to permanent nerve damage.

In a statement, the CDPH said that the cactus was found tainted with the pesticide during a routine surveillance. "A recent routine surveillance sample collected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) isolated as much as 5.8 parts per million of Monocrotophos, an organophosphate based pesticide that has been barred from use in the United States since 1989," CDPH reported. "CDPR immediately took action to remove all of the product it could locate from store shelves and distribution centers. It has been quarantined and/or destroyed so that it doesn't pose a threat to consumers."

The tainted cactus was found in La Superior SuperMercados in Sacramento, Stockton, Woodland and Pittsburg from Feb. 6 to Feb.12; Mercado del Valle in Concord from Feb. 6 to Feb.12; La Sucursal Produce in Central Avenue, Los Angeles on Feb. 6; Fresh American Produce in Mission Road, Los Angeles on Feb. 7; and J&L Produce in Central Avenue, Los Angeles on Feb. 6.

The cactus obtained from wholesalers also likely had a sticker that said "Comercializadora De Chiles, Selectos Nieto S. De R.L. De C.V" albeit products sold by retailers may not have any specific brand or label.

Although some of the pesticide can be removed by washing, peeling or boiling the cactus, health officials have advised that consumers throw away the tainted products or return them to where they have purchased them from.

"Washing or peeling the cactus prior to preparation as well as some cooking methods (boiling) can remove some of the pesticide, however, since consumers are unable to measure the effectiveness of these procedures, it is not recommended that consumers try to salvage any of this contaminated product," CDPH said, "If consumers have any of this product remaining in their possession, they should return it to the place of purchase or dispose of it in the garbage."

Fortunately, no illness has been reported so far from the consumption of the tainted nopales.

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