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Citrus Scale

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Please let me know whether scale insects on citrus fruit, which some in Israel say is an issue, is a concern here also in the U.S.?

A. Citrus scale is the name for a class of insects which attack the fruit (and leaves) of oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits.  Each tiny scale attaches itself to a fruit, lowers a rostrum (a hair-like feeding tube) into the fruit, and sucks juice out of the fruit.  After the scale is attached to the fruit, it excretes a wax-like cover/shield over its exposed side and remains immobile and attached to that same spot for its entire life.  The cover is typically black and round and is the basis for the name citrus “scale”.  An experienced person can peel the cover (and probably the insect as well) off the fruit; this is different than other discolorations of the fruit which cannot be removed.

There are two halachic issues relating to citrus scale:

  • Shulchan Aruch YD 84:6 rules that insects that lived their whole life in a fruit without ever moving are permitted, and citrus scale would appear to be a perfect example of this.  The arguments against this are (a) the citrus scale may be visible when they first crawl onto the fruit in their first instar/stage (the details of which are beyond the scope of this column), and (b) Rema argues that such insects are forbidden.
  • Citrus scale (or at least their wax cover) are large enough to be visible to the naked eye, but they are not recognizable as insects to the average person looking at them without magnification.  Whether insects of that size are, in fact, forbidden is a dispute between contemporary Poskim (see Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchaso Chapter 3, footnote 105) with most Israeli Poskim adopting the strict approach and many American Poskim ruling leniently.  [This question is also somewhat intertwined with whether the citrus scales are visible in their first instar, noted above.]

The good news is that growers in the United States use all types of pesticides and natural predators to keep citrus scale off oranges and other fruit intended for eating, and, therefore, this discussion is not so relevant for most of us.  It seems that in Eretz Yisroel citrus scale is more common, and the people there are encouraged to either remove the scale, or make sure to peel the fruit carefully to make sure none of the insects come off the peel and fall into the food.

Even in the United States citrus scale is sometimes found on fruit intended for juicing, where the appearance of the fruit is not as significant.  Juice companies filter the juice before bottling it, and this will remove many of the citrus scale that might have been on the fruit.  Nonetheless, it is possible that some will remain in the juice.  That opens another set of questions (assuming citrus scale are forbidden, as discussed above), that is, are the citrus scales so thoroughly mixed into the juice that it qualifies as a permitted “ta’aroves”, or is one required to filter it to such an extent that all scales are removed?  The issues involved in that question are beyond the scope of this article and are something considered by agencies who certify citrus juices.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, May 10, 2024.