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Black widow spider found in red grapes

Heidi Waite went to the store for grapes. She came home with a poisonous pet.

Waite was feeding red seedless grapes to her 1 1/2-year-old daughter this weekend when her father stopped her cold. A black widow spider, the most dangerous type of spider in the United States, was nestled in the bunch of fruit.

Waite didn't panic. She put the arachnid into her children's bug jar and has kept it there since.

"I couldn't come to terms with killing it," she said yesterday.

Waite, of Boylston, purchased the California grapes last week at a Shaw's supermarket in Shrewsbury. She said she wanted to get the word out to ensure that others would be cautious with their grapes.

In response to venomous discoveries by Waite and another customer who bought grapes at a different store, Shaw's supermarkets, a unit of Britain's J Sainsbury PLC, said it would increase inspection of the fruit at its stores and sell the grapes loose instead of in bags.

"As a result of the growers' efforts to reduce the use of pesticides in the industry, the possibility of finding an insect or spider exists," the West Bridgewater-based company said in a statement.

The current problem of black widow spiders is limited to red grapes, because they are currently being harvested, Shaw's said.

The black widow spider's venom is not usually fatal to humans, because only a minute amount is transmitted. But the bite is extremely painful.

The California Table Grape Commission said it is rare that black widows are found in the more than 800 million bags of grapes shipped to consumers each year. The grapes are hand-picked in the fields and inspected for insects.

"Harvesting fresh grapes is a very hands-on operation," said commission spokesman Jim Howard.

Waite, 37, said she's not looking to keep the spider, which remains on the sprig of grapes in a jar. And she says her children aren't impressed by the new creature with the distinctive red hourglass shape on its abdomen.

"They take more interest in the grapes," she said. "My 3-year-old goes, `Ew. A bug.' "

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