The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a recall for decorative pine cones and potpourri sold in department stores across the country because they may be infected with exotic insects.
Inspectors with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have discovered two different types of pests in pine cones that originated in India: a pine cone-eating longhorned beetle and an unidentified species of moth.
The department was first alerted to the infestation when an inspector saw a larva in a pine cone while shopping at a Target store in North Carolina during the first week of December.
The recall applies to pine cones of Indian origin sold nationwide in Target, Wal-Mart, Jo-Ann Stores, Lowe's, Dollar Tree, Kmart and Franks Nursery stores.
If you have purchased these items, you have two options, said Claude Knighten, public affairs specialist with the USDA's inspection service.
"You can return the products to the store where you bought them or throw them away," he said.
To properly dispose of the pine cones, place them in two plastic bags, tie the bags tightly and throw them away. You can also freeze the pine cones for two days in order to kill any larvae that might have been in the cones, Knighten said.
Signs of infestation include exit holes, a sawdustlike material on the pine cone's scales or egg sacs within the crevices of the cone.
Barb Seman, vice president of marketing for the Dollar Tree, said the company notified its stores about the recall this week. Staff were instructed to remove the potpourri from the shelves and store it in the back of the store until the vendor picked it up.
"If something like this comes up, the product comes off the shelves," she said.
A Target spokesman and a Jo-Ann Stores Inc. spokeswoman said customers who purchased the products at their stores were welcome to a full refund.
"One would never think of Christmas decorations as a pathway for an invasive species," said Robert Wiedenmann, an entomologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. "You'd think that if you buy pine cones or potpourri from one of the stores in town (the pine cones) are from the area, but in fact, most of them come from Asia," he said.
The beetle, Chlorophorus strobilicola, is a slender, wood-boring beetle that infests pine trees that grow at altitudes of 2,000 to 6,500 feet. It is native to India, not the United States.
Entomologist Charlie Helm, also with the survey, said he categorizes the beetle as an insect "we really don't need and one we don't know enough about yet.
"It is alarming how these pests seem to find their way into the country," Helm said.
Insects could also be transported to the United States via artificial Christmas trees, Wiedenmann added. Although the needles and branches of artificial trees are made of such materials as plastic and thermoplastic resin, some center poles are made of wood, prime hiding places for wood-boring beetles, he said.
"Wood-boring beetles are adaptable. They can survive a long time in such places," Wiedenmann said.
The possibility of a pine tree in your back yard becoming infected by the beetle is fairly unlikely, Helm said, "but the consequences of infestation are severe enough we should take precautions."
Essentially, the beetles affect a tree's seed production.
Pine cones infested with the beetles may fall to the ground in cold weather, according to the USDA. When pine cones fall to the ground, the scales normally separate, but those of infested cones will not.
The USDA is recalling the pine cone products by UPC number, not brand name. The recalled products have these UPC numbers: 009134052930, 009134052930, 024709122192, 071716018702, 076001708344, 076001708337, 076001708269, 076001708245, 076001708252, 076001707415, 076001707408, 076001707422, 076001708306, 076001708320, 076001708559, 076001708542, 076001708560, 076001708566, 643727307450, 721366827680, 750197869675 and 826214004241.
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