Dangerously high levels of banned pesticides in edible cactus from Mexico spurred California health officials to issue a public warning today urging people to throw out the product because it could cause acute poisoning.

The contaminated cactus pads may also have been distributed in other states.

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Washing or peeling the cactus pads, also known as nopales, is not effective and people should not try to salvage any of this contaminated produce, according to the warning this morning from the California Department of Public Health and the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

The cactus pads may also have been distributed in Oregon and Nevada. California officials have informed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the situation.

“Routine surveillance samples collected by DPR inspectors found various pesticides, including dimethoate, omethoate, monocrotophos, and methidathion, at levels that pose a health risk to humans,” according to the public warning. “

“Both monocrotophos and methidathion have been banned for food use in the United States for several years.”

Symptoms of poisoning from the pesticides include sweating, headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, hypersalivation, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, the state’s top health official said in the public warning. Anyone who has eaten cactus pads from Mexico and developed such symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.

“Consumption of monocrotophos can lead to neurotoxicity and permanent nerve damage,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.

The California pesticide regulation inspectors collected and tested samples of the cactus pads that were sold to consumers and wholesalers between Jan. 23-29.

California officials said they have located some of the implicated cactus pads, but not all of them. The cactus pads subject to the public warning are known to have been sold at the following locations:

  • Rancho San Miguel Markets, Madera;
  • La Monarca Market, Lower Lake;
  • FreshPoint Central California, Turlock;
  • Arteaga’s Food Center, Sacramento;
  • Stater Bros. Distribution Center, San Bernardino; and
  • S&L Wholesale Produce, San Francisco.

Brian Leahy, DPR director said in today’s warning that state officials are not aware of any illnesses to date. Anyone who bought the cactus pads from the listed locations recently should return them to the place of purchase or dispose of it in the garbage, he said.

“(The) DPR believes it is possible that some of the cactus pads may have been sold to other stores in California, Nevada, and Oregon. The tainted produce was packaged with the brand names ‘Mexpogroup Fresh Produce,’ ‘Aramburo,’ or ‘Los Tres Huastecos,’ ” according to the public warning.

The pesticide regulation department removed the cactus pads it could locate from store shelves and distribution centers. The department quarantined or destroyed the seized produce, the department reported.

Any person who sees any of the implicated cactus pads for sale in any place is encouraged to report it to the state health department’s toll-free complaint line at 800-495-3232.

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