February 11, 2018

Pea Crabs Found in Mussels Served at Cornell Dining Safe to Eat

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When Mackenzie Smith ’21 found a pea crab in a mussel served in North Star Dining Room on North Campus, she screamed and in a panicked frenzy, threw it off her plate. Her friend Philip Danziger ’21 uploaded an image of the crustacean and the mussel to Cornell’s meme page in a viral Facebook post that now has over a thousand likes.

Cornell Dining and Prof. Matthew Hare, natural resources, both confirmed that the crab as well as the mussel are safe for consumption.

“Our supplier confirms to us that there is no food safety issue when a pea crab is discovered in a cooked mussel, as the pea crab, too, is fully cooked,” said web communications manager Mark H. Anbinder, campus life marketing and communications.

Anbinder added that the pea crabs are actually known to be “sweet and delicious.” Corroborating Anbinder’s claim is the long history of pea crabs in the culinary arts; a 1907 New York Times article referred to the crustaceans as “one of the sweetest and quaintest viands known to man.”

But irrespective of the praise culinary critics gave to the pea crabs, Smith said she was “grossed out” upon finding one in her mussel. Unfortunately, Anbinder said there are no ways to remove the crabs prior to cooking them.

“The mussels we serve have been caught in the waters off Prince Edward Island and immediately vacuum packed and frozen,” Anbinder said. “Because mussels only open once they’re fully cooked, there’s no opportunity to inspect for or remove pea crabs before cooking them.”

Smith is not the first Cornellian to be internet famous for finding a crab in her mussels. A 2014 Facebook post by Sam Rittenhouse ’18 that said “there was a full blown crab in the mussel I bit into in Okenshields” received over 250 likes.

Hare indicated that while pea crabs are “harmless” for human consumption, they are a parasitic organism that “might slow the growth of the host mussel or oyster.”

“Filter feeding bivalves like oysters and mussels will take in water borne pea crab larvae, but instead of ingesting them or spitting then out, the pea crab has evolved some clever way of staying alive and growing inside the bivalve, taking advantage of the food that the bivalve is bringing in,” Hare added.

It is unclear just how frequent a diner may find a pea crab in their mussels.
“The abundance of pea crabs is notoriously variable both spatially and temporally,” Hare said. “In Japan there was a report that frequencies of pea crabs inside mussels ranged from 0 to 60 percent.”

While Anbinder said finding a pea crab is supposed to give you good luck, Smith said the experience made her unwilling to consume mussels at Cornell Dining.

“Obviously it’s not that big a deal and they aren’t harmful or anything and it was funny,” Smith said. “I just don’t think I would eat them again.”