As reported by The Hartford Courant, October 20, 2006.

Hidden Amid the Grapes, a Black Widow

Poisonous Spider Shows Up As Woman Enjoys Her Snack

By Hilary Waldman

Sheryl Rosen learned Thursday that a bag of chips really can be healthier than a bunch of grapes.

Chips - or candy bars for that matter - usually don't come with spiders inside.

As Rosen was sitting at her desk at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, snacking from a bag of seedless purple grapes, she spotted a female black widow spider hiding in the bunch.

A self-described bug enthusiast, Rosen said she found a rubber band and quietly sealed the bag. She then walked to the Connecticut Poison Control Center, which happens to be next door to her office at the health center.

"I saw the red hourglass on the underbelly," said Rosen, the health center's webmaster. "The minute I saw it, I knew."

The female black widow is the most poisonous spider in North America, with venom that's 15 times more toxic than a rattlesnake's. But because it can inject only a tiny amount of venom, a bite from a black widow is rarely lethal. It can, however, cause abdominal pain similar to appendicitis, as well as muscular pain or pain in the soles of the feet.

Rosen said she bought the grapes Tuesday at the Price Chopper supermarket on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington. She packed a bunch of grapes into a baggie Wednesday, but didn't have a chance to eat them. So she took the grapes home and put them in her refrigerator.

She took the bag back to work Thursday and dug in.

Although the black widow is native to warm climates, including the deserts of the American West, it is becoming more common to find them up north, especially in supermarket grapes.

Three years ago, two black widows were found on grapes purchased at separate Shaw's supermarkets in the Boston area. And farmers have said that as they reduce pesticide usage, consumers can expect to find more bugs in their fruits and vegetables.

In response to Rosen's discovery, the Central Connecticut Health District asked the Newington Price Chopper to pull the grapes from its shelves as a precaution. But Paul Hutcheon, the director of health for the four-town district, said the spider should not be seen as a reflection of the store's cleanliness.

"This is something I'm not sure there's a mechanism to prevent," Hutcheon said. "These grapes are coming in, and these creatures are in the wild. It's not an infestation."

Mona Golub, vice president for public relations and consumer services at Price Chopper, said grapes - commonly called black seedless grapes - were from California and have been removed from the shelves at the Newington stores as a precaution. But Golub said such occurrences are extremely rare, and that the grapes have not been removed from the chain's other stores.

Rosen said she did not think about what would have happened if the spider had bitten her, but she was philosophical about the possibility.

"At least," she said, "I'm at a hospital."