The other night a reader found “a tiny white worm with what looked like a reddish brown head” in some precooked ham she bought. The reader bought and cooked (or technically recooked) the ham for dinner, and the following day she found the worm when eating leftovers. She looked through all the ham, but was only able to find one of the worms. The reader was wondering if we have any idea what the tiny white worms with the red or brown head might be.
The reader threw the ham out before taking a picture, so she wasn’t able to send us a photo of the creature in question. As always, an image would have been helpful, and especially in this case because the facts of our reader’s situation are somewhat unusual. Based on the physical characteristics alone, it sounds like our reader might have found the larval form of Indianmeal moths (Plodia interpunctella). Indianmeal moth larvae (which are not worms, as we understand the word) are generally a white or off-white color, and their heads are distinct from their bodies because they are a much darker color. They are often “reddish brown,” exactly as our reader described the head of the creature she found. Moreover, Indianmeal moth larvae are extremely common – people find them in their homes all the time. So, there are good reasons for thinking our reader might have found one of these creatures.
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The biggest problem with this suggestion is that the worms were found in ham, which is a fairly bizarre place to find Indianmeal moth larvae, which tend to feed on dry foods and grains that are stored sway. For this reason they tend to be found in pantries, and in fact they are often called pantry moth larvae. A preference for dried foods is actually true of a good portion of the pests – worm-like or otherwise – that you might find around your home, and of the pests that don’t end up in items like flour and noodles, they are often found in fruits and vegetables instead. (We recently wrote an article for a reader who found small white worms in potatoes, for instance.)
We have received one question from a reader who found some sort of larvae in a piece of store-bought chicken, but in that article we were only able to offer one possible suggestion that is specific to poultry meat, and in any case the larvae found in the chicken was totally different from whatever our reader found. Basically, a precooked piece of meat is a fairly strange place to find a larvae or other household pest, and we know of no household larvae/worms that one might find in a piece of ham.
We should briefly note, just to preemptively address any possible confusion, that our reader didn’t find Trichinella spiralis, the parasitic roundworms that causes trichinosis, because these worms are extremely small – a little over a millimeter long – and are basically impossible to see in pork meat with the naked eye. These worms would also be killed in a precooked piece of ham. Basically, Trichinella spiralis is a nearly microscopic parasite that in rare instances can cause the foodborne illness known as trichinosis, not a larvae you see crawling around in your food.
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Unfortunately, we do not know what our reader found, but its physical appearance sounds like an Indianmeal moth larvae, even though a piece of ham is a strange place to find one. However, whatever our reader found, it might have found its way into the ham container incidentally, and thus there might be no connection between the fact that our reader found the worm in a precooked piece of meat specifically. We recommend that she look into a few common household larvae, starting with Indianmeal moth larvae, to see if she turns up anything that looks like what she found.