Olivia Tucker

A Waldorf salad is typically composed of apples, celery and walnuts, but when Carigan McGuinn ’25 took a bite of her dinner, she was surprised to discover another crunchy ingredient: a moth. 

The first-year, who was having dinner in the Timothy Dwight College dining hall on Monday night, said that she had already eaten several mouthfuls of the salad before discovering the moth. She spotted the creature impaled on her fork before taking her next bite. Yale Hospitality expressed in a statement to the News its regret over the incident and emphasized its rigorous food safety standards.

“My initial reaction was a mixture of shock, disbelief and disgust,” McGuinn told the News. “I felt nauseous knowing that I had eaten bites of the salad that the moth had touched. I also felt lucky that I had managed to see that the moth was on my fork before sticking the entire thing into my mouth.” 

The Silliman College dining hall made headlines in April 2019 when a student found a live parasite in her fish at brunch. Yale Hospitality launched an investigation in response to the incident.

In a statement to the News, Christelle Ramos, senior manager of marketing and communications for Yale Hospitality, wrote that her team was “shocked” by the moth incident. She emphasized Yale Hospitality’s high safety standards, noting that the department has over 300 ServSafe-certified team members on staff, exceeding the state of Connecticut’s requirements for designated certified food protection managers. Ramos highlighted other quality-assurance procedures, including triple-washing fresh produce even after it arrives pre-washed from vendors. 

In the instance of “identifying unintended matter among fresh ingredients,” Ramos said, Yale Hospitality employs a practice of fact-gathering, localizing the incident and notifying the safety managers of sourcing partners. The University followed this procedure in response to McGuinn’s report, she said. Ramos added that the vendor in question has not received any associated complaints to date.

“While our team’s number one focus is student safety through ensuring the highest standards for wholesome food – when it comes to providing the freshest ingredients, situations like these are extremely rare, although not impossible,” Ramos wrote.

The moth in question is most likely of the Estigmene acrea species, according to Lawrence Gall, entomology collections manager at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The species is more commonly known as a salt marsh moth. Gall made his identification based on several features in a photo provided by the News, including white coloring on the abdomen tip and abdomen sides, white and orange coloring on the forewings and hindwings respectively and wing spot patterns consistent with the species.

Gall added that it was more challenging to identify the species because the moth in the photo was both “extremely mangled” and likely covered in salad dressing.

“It looks loaded with eggs and very nutritious,” Leonard Munstermann, a senior research scientist in epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, told the News.

Brooke Shapiro ’23, who was eating dinner with McGuinn, said that while she “usually [trusts] Yale Dining, this was pretty concerning.” Shapiro said that as a result of the incident, she now has questions about the freshness and provenance of food served in the dining halls.

It is “simply impossible to discount” the occasional bug in fresh produce, according to ecology and evolutionary biology major Chase Brownstein ’23. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits the presence of insect parts in food in low quantities, he said.

I’m vegan, so the salad and the fresh produce in the dining halls is a big part of what I eat here at Yale,” McGuinn said. “Finding such a huge insect in my food was slightly traumatizing and when I eventually eat salad again I will definitely be sifting through it to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.”

McGuinn added that she hopes the incident was “isolated and random” and that she appreciates the “sincere apology” she received from the TD dining hall team.

Timothy Dwight College is located at 345 Temple St.

Olivia Tucker covers student policy and affairs. She previously served as an associate editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine and covered gender equity and diversity as a staff reporter. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in English.