EXPLAINER: What is bukbok?

MANILA, Philippines – Consumers have been grossed out over reports that rice imports of the National Food Authority are infested with bukbok or weevils. 

Obviously, nobody wants little critters mixed with the beloved staple food. Many asked, "Is bukbok-infested rice safe to eat?"

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he will absolutely eat it. An entomologist or an expert on insects agrees with that, provided that the weevils are within a manageable number.

What is bukbok? Entomologist and Global Forum on Agricultural Research awardee Josine Macaspac said there are two types of insects that Filipinos refer to as bukbok.

"In general, these are rice weevils and beetles. Weevils lay eggs in the rice grains and the larvae grows inside," Macaspac said.

"They appear not necessarily on old stock, but poorly-stored stock," she added.

Bukbok can appear on rice or other unattended dried products like flour or corn within days.

Infested food have to be fumigated as soon as possible since the weevils reproduce rapidly, according to Macaspac.

How can bukbok be exterminated? For huge quantities like the rice imports, Macaspac said fumigation is an effective way of getting rid of bukbok.

Fumigation is the process where fumes are applied to halt the infestation.

"Some companies use carbon dioxide, some use malathion, some use diatomaceous earth," Macaspac said.

Companies are only allowed to use chemicals deemed safe by government agencies like the Department of Agriculture.

"The taste, color, and appearance of the rice won't change, provided that these companies adhere to correct dosage and chemical types," Macaspac said.

Alternatively, Macaspac has a working prototype of a machine that can filter out unwanted sediments or bugs on rice.

The machine, which has yet to be mass produced, "tumbles" the rice and shakes off pests on the contraption's floor.

What can people do at home? To prevent infestation at home, Macaspac recommended that rice be stored in an airtight and clean container.

"If the infestation just started, they can place bay leaves, cloves, or neem leaves," she said.

Freezing the rice overnight is also effective. 

"Freezing kills everything, but you would need to physically remove them before you store the rice again or cook it," Macaspac said.

Submerging the rice in water would only get rid of the adult weevils. Those that are burrowed inside the grains – and the insects' feces – would be difficult to spot. – Rappler.com 

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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