Don’t laugh. But I’ve recently learned that Cuban’s have an innate ability for sniffing out whether or not cockroaches have been on particular foodstuffs.
I came home with a honey coated peanut bar. Sitting down to eat it my Cubans did what they always do. They hustled for free food. So I gave them a piece. Only to watch as they tore off through the house toward the toilet to spit it out.
Odd, I thought. But I began hearing cries of ‘don’t eat that’. And this was the moment I learnt that Cuban’s have an innate ability, a sixth sense as you will, for sniffing out the lingering odour left by cockroaches.
And now, whenever I buy something from a street vendor, I always give the first piece to the nearest Cuban. If there’s been cockroaches on that food you’ll see the Cuban running for a bin. Which is about the only time you’ll see a Cuban running.
How Do Cubans Know What A Cockroach Smells Like?
Apparently they all learned from their mothers and grandmothers. They were trained from young ages to beware of the faintest of odours left by a cockroach.
In Cuba at various times, food has been scarce. And being the little capitalists that they are, Cubans will hoard in demand items until the prices increase enough. And food is no exception.
When I was here for two months during COVID eggs were routinely making people sick. And it was pointed out to me that the common egg was a staple in Cuban kitchens. Thus it was an in demand item. So a number of industrious little Cubans were hoarding the eggs and reselling them when the prices went up.
The only problem was that the eggs were hoarded in temperatures over 30ºC (86°F). They’d be washed so the average Cuban couldn’t detect the cockroach smell. But these eggs would make everyone sick when consumed.
Because of the egg hoarding during COVID, I went for an entirely seafood diet for 2 months during COVID in Cuba just to avoid the eggs. Seafood for 3 meals a day is no bueno.
On locally produced long life foods or even items that can stay in a shop for a day or two, cockroaches can taint them. My peanut bar would have been fine in storage for several months provided cockroaches didn’t get to them.
Food items can spend a long time in storage in Cuba. So all the grandmothers and mothers of Cuba teach their children to sniff out roaches. A cockroach tainted item might not produce the immediate (and common) regret you get on the island when a restaurant’s food safety standards aren’t up to code.
Cockroach tainted items might not produce the regret you feel as you run off to the toilet immediately after a meal. But you will regret eating cockroach contaminated foods. Whether it’s someone telling you later or because you wind up getting sick.
To protect themselves and their families Cuban ladies have learned to sniff out roaches. And they’ve taught their sons and daughters. Cubans will continue to knowingly sell contaminated foods to each other for a quick buck. Thus it’s a necessary life skill on the island to be able to spot these items.
Can Cockroach Contaminated Foods Make You Sick?
Cockroach contaminated foods can absolutely make you sick in Cuba. The sewers in Cuba aren’t in the greatest of shape. And the cockroaches can come directly out of sewers filled with human waste.
You need to take care not to eat anything contaminated by cockroaches in Cuba. Cockroaches carry bacteria and microorganisms that cause food poisoning, diarrhea, and staphylococcus infections.
If a Cuban says your food smells like cockroaches, definitely don’t eat it. And if you can, stick to seafood as Cubans can’t hoard seafood.
Have you ever smelt seafood a week after it’s caught? yeah, they won’t be hoarding seafood.
What To Do If You Get Sick?
If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know I don’t travel to Cuba without a strong medical insurance policy that includes medical evacuation.
I haven’t need to use my medical insurance policy yet. But I have spent countless hours over my various trips, sitting on the toilet thanks to poor Cuban hygiene standards.
If you were to get seriously ill and need medical attention, using your medical insurance policy to fly out of Cuba is your best option. The hospitals here in Cuba are useless.
Yet if you want to ensure you don’t get sick, or at least minimise the number of times you do find yourself sitting on the toilet holding a bucket, you should adopt a Cuban.
Take them out with you to eat. If they won’t eat at an establishment or won’t touch a particular food, you shouldn’t either. Because they’ve learnt from their mothers and grandmothers to sniff out cockroaches and contaminated comida.