Mother's Day Is Just 5 Days Away, Don't Forget Her Flowers And Leave Out The Mites!!
Posted on May 8, 2012
Getting the bugs out — literally — of Mother’s Day flowers at LAX
By Art Marroquin, Staff Writerdailybreeze.com
The last thing any mom wants next weekend is a pest.
To keep that from happening, federal authorities are preparing for Mother’s Day by scrutinizing an estimated 40 million flowers for bugs, eggs and larvae hiding in shipments coming from South America, Asia and Australia.
“If you ask any mother who tries to grow flowers in her garden, you’ll always hear about having to deal with the insects,” said Jaime Ruiz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“We don’t want anyone’s mom to deal with that for Mother’s Day.”
Armed with magnifying glasses and tweezers, the CBP’s trained group of agricultural specialists constantly search for unusual signs of disease or clues that mites, thrips, miner flies and other critters are feeding on lush shipments arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.
More flowers arrive in the United States for Mother’s Day than any other holiday, followed by Valentine’s Day, Ruiz said. Los Angeles handles 15 to 20 percent of the nation’s blooms, making it the second-busiest flower importer after Miami.
“Sometimes we don’t find anything, but finding something new to us is pretty exciting,” said Yaan Cheng, who has worked the past four years as a CBP inspector at LAX.
On Monday morning, Cheng grabbed a rose bouquet that had just arrived from Ecuador, flipped it upside down and gave it a strong shake.
Loose petals, leaves and other dry remnants scattered onto a white table as he reached for a pair of tweezers and plucked a twitching mite.
Cheng gingerly placed the insect into an alcohol-filled glass vial that will be examined to determine whether it is already established in the United States.
If the insect isn’t already present, then the entire shipment of flowers is sent back, destroyed or treated with chemical pesticides.
“One little bug that isn’t from here could wreak havoc in the agricultural sector,” Ruiz said.
The flowers arrive in the belly of passenger jetliners, and then are whisked to massive cold-storage units housed inside nearby warehouses.
Nearly 3.5 million flowers arrived last weekend from New Zealand, Ecuador and Colombia for inspection at Gourmet Logistics Co., which has a cavernous refrigeration unit that’s kept at a brisk zero to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
The petals are kept in fresh condition until they are ready for distribution to West Coast flower shops and supermarkets, said Andy Iturrizaga, business relations manager for Gourmet Logistics Co.
“It’s a great business,” Iturrizaga said. “Especially at this time of the year.”