Can You Eat Lettuce That Has Slugs On It? (Yes, But It’s Not Completely Safe)

Regarding basic salads and meat-free or low-carb substitute recipes, lettuce is generally the most common ingredient. It helps hold food items in place, soak up any dressing, and gives that extra crunch.

However, avid lettuce growers know that one of the biggest problems that can be faced when harvesting is warding off slugs.

Slugs love softer growing plants such as lettuce, peas and celery. They feast at night and chew holes in everything. But, can you eat lettuce that has slugs on it?

Honestly we can, but we shouldn’t. Because slugs damaged the leaves and makes them un-harvestable. In fact, despite a decent wash, consuming slug damaged lettuce can cause long term health issues.

Research has proven that slugs contain and spread both parasites and bacteria. These microscopic organisms are known to attack our bodies from the inside and are extremely difficult to remove.

This article will cover this topic to help anyone concerned about harvesting and consuming lettuce once slugs have been on them.

Can you eat lettuce that has slugs on it

What is a Slug? Do slugs carry bacteria?

Slugs come from the mollusca family, and their distant relatives include snails, oysters, clams, and squid.

There are over 50,000 known and recorded species of these gastropods, and they can live anywhere that presents optimal conditions.

These include damp, dark and moist environments. The average garden slug can grow from 3-7 inches in length. A somewhat tricky issue for growers to navigate is the feeding habits of these slugs.

What is a Slug

Namely, they participate in night feeding, so they are both hard to plan for as well as spot unless, of course, you are out on the hunt after sunset. They prefer to hide away in cooler, dark and moist garden corners during the day.

The transition from winter to spring is ideal for a slug to begin its feeding frenzy. One of the greatest hazards that slugs bring are parasites and bacteria. They are a host body for these microscopic nasties.

If they smother our food with these parasites and bacteria, the risks for us as humans far outweigh having something to eat. 

Can you eat lettuce that has slugs on it?

It is possible to eat lettuce that slugs have been on, but it comes with some risks. Of course, you could wash the lettuce very carefully but doing so could damage it, making it inedible.

From a health point of view, we would be more swayed to the side of not eating lettuce that has been affected by slugs.

Can you eat lettuce that has slugs on it

Slugs are a host body for many parasites and certain types of bacteria. One of the most common parasites, the nematode, lives in rodents.

Such rodents, including cotton rats, are the primary host of this parasite. As they go about daily, they eat and defecate the nematode larvae.

This larva is gobbled up by the slugs and processed within their system. From there, the slugs smear waste all over the plants via their glands whilst munching on them.

If these plants aren’t cleaned excessively, humans can host the parasites. Parasites are known to become problematic to humans and animals in several ways and can have long term effects.

These include Abdominal pain, Diarrhea, Nausea or vomiting, Gas or bloating, etc.

Can slugs in lettuce make you sick?

It’s easy to notice that a slug has been active in your garden. You will usually see its slime smeared everywhere, from the leaves to the stem and even across the soil.

It’s debatable whether or not the slime is harmful. On the one hand, it’s not toxic to touch, so in that way, humans are safe.

Can slugs in lettuce make you sick

On the other hand, the slime contains bacteria and parasites that, if consumed, can cause the body some real damage. Rat lungworm is the most common parasite that slugs can contaminate lettuce with.

If consumed and not treated, a couple of potentially health-damaging issues can derive from them. These include:

  • Angiostrongyliasis – This condition affects the brain’s functionality and eventually shuts down the whole body.
  • Eosinophilic meningitis – This condition causes brain lining Inflammation which swells up parts of the brain and can lead to loss of limb functionality.

Do slugs eat lettuce?

Slugs love lettuce; lettuce is their prime food source, alongside most other softer-growing vegetables. They also enjoy cabbages, peas, celery and any other vegetable that they can eat without using too much energy or force.

As we know, slugs are gooey, slimy pests which can’t maneuver themselves onto plants that have smaller crevices.

They tend to stick to those more leafy plants where they can easily cruise around. The thinner leafy vegetables allow the slugs to use their tongues to almost lick and suck them away.

They are known to first create smaller holes and then use the holes to climb in and out to allow them to reach other areas of the surrendering plants. 

How do you clean lettuce from slugs?

The only way to completely remove any residue left by slugs or snails, for that matter, is by rinsing and repeating. (Excuse the pun). Simply wash the lettuce under cool water and scrub it away with your hands. Try to get into all of the smaller apertures.

How do you clean lettuce from slugs

Additionally, peel away each leaf and repeat the process. You don’t need any soap, just a good, thorough manual wash. Whether you have picked some fresh lettuce from your garden or purchased them in a store, they need to be cleaned.

It may seem like an irritating task, but the risk of ingesting bacteria and parasites should be avoided at all costs.

Cleaning lettuce from the garden?

Cleaning freshly picked lettuce from your garden is a good habit to practice every time. The best way to do so is by first washing the entire outside from tip to root with clean, cold water.

Furthermore, remove each leaf and give them all the same treatment. Wash thoroughly via light manual massage. There isn’t much else to it.

Tips and Tricks: How to protect lettuce from slugs in its growing period?

If slugs are a problem in your garden, there are several ways to help keep them away. Let’s look at some common methods that can be used to ensure your lettuce plans have the best chance at survival. 

How to protect lettuce from slugs in its growing period

Grow in a GreenHouse

Setting your lettuce plants up in a greenhouse is highly beneficial. Being an enclosed area makes it much tougher for the slugs to make their way in. As long as the bases, joins and doors are sealed, it’s almost impossible for them to enter.

Additionally, slugs are usually active when the sun goes down, and it’s not so common to be out in the greenhouse at night. If the door is kept shut at night, then there shouldn’t be any way for them to get in and attack the lettuce.


he jagged, pointed edges of eggshells can be a great deterrent for slugs. Simply crush some eggshells into larger, rough pieces and scatter them around the growing area. As long as the shells are dry, the slugs will have a lot of trouble getting over them to the lettuce plants.

It’s recommended to build a 2-3 inch width barrier so they cannot cross. However, the biggest issue with eggshells is that you may require many eggs if you have a larger area to protect. It may take some time to save them.

Copper Tape

Surprisingly, the copper tape is another effective barrier method that can deter slugs. The copper not only slows them down while attempting to cross but also releases a small electrical charge that gives them a shock.

The tape can be stuck around the garden’s edge or even the plants’ base.

Cut Away Affected Parts

Most previously mentioned methods should be used as preventative measures. If the lettuce has already been affected and showing visible signs of damage, you can always try to remove some of the outer leaves to refresh the plant.

By doing so, you may be able to locate and remove any slugs that are already a mid feast. Simply take a clean, sterilized pair of garden shears or scissors and cut a layer of the lettuce away. Make sure you discard appropriately to avoid contamination of any other nearby plants. 

The best method is always preventative; if that doesn’t work, it’s best to have a solution for the problem. Slugs are easy to keep at bay if you restrict their ability to even get close to your crops.

Where and when can we find the slugs?

Slugs are seasonal because they are more active during the warmer weather. They are still present in the colder weather but tend to stay hidden. Generally, the middle of spring is ideal as the increased temperatures allow their frail, gooey bodies to avoid becoming cold and potentially freezing.

They prefer damp conditions, so they may seem more present after rainfall. Furthermore, their activity levels are heightened between dawn and dusk, when they don’t need to compete with the sun or active predators. Slugs try to hide inside plants and anywhere damp, moist and dark, although they are often easy to spot. It’s common to see them head out to feast in droves deep into summer after a rainy period.

What to do if you accidentally eat a slug?

It’s hard to tell whether or not a consumed slug has carried a parasite larva. If you do happen to accidentally eat one, the best thing to do is to, unfortunately, try to clean your mouth and throat as fast as you can. They aren’t toxic, but a potential parasite infestation in your body can cause extremely concerning long term damage.

There is parasite cleanses that you can do. They involve using specific tinctures and consuming whole foods that prevent the parasite from feeding internally.

That concept alone is best left for another full article. The only sure way to deal with this possibility is to be completely thorough with your washing of the vegetable before consuming it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are leaf slugs poisonous?

Leaf slugs aren’t toxic, but their parasites can cause lifelong debilitating problems if humans and animals consume the affected leaves. Rodents such as cotton rats defecate nematode larvae, and slugs consume them and spread them around the leaves as they feed. If the leaves are consumed, the risk is high that these parasites will enter and affect a human or animal.

How do you keep snails away from lettuce?

Snails can be kept away from lettuce by preventative measures such as growing in greenhouses where all access points can be sealed shut, denying them entry.

Additionally, eggshells and copper tape can be effective natural deterrents. Jagged, sharp eggshells restrict movement and copper tape sends small pulses into the snail as they attempt to breach a growing area. 

Is it OK to eat greens with bug holes?

If there are any signs of bugs, including holes, slime or decaying parts, it’s best to avoid eating these greens. It’s not so much the visible signs that can cause illness but the invisible and/or microscopic level traces that are the most dangerous to animals and humans. Parasites cannot be seen or felt until it’s almost too late. 


It’s extremely difficult to know if feeding slugs have become a parasite host and affected your lunch. Therefore, any lettuce, whether store bought or homegrown, should be washed thoroughly.

Alternatively, avoid eating lettuce altogether if the possibility of a slug invasion is present. We hope this article has been helpful, and we look forward to creating more just like it to help you on your gardening journey. As always, happy growing!

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