Report unsolicited seed packages to IDOA

(Photo courtesy of USDA)

Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) officials are encouraging Illinoisans to properly dispose of unwanted foreign seeds using the agency’s recommended steps, Scott Schirmer with IDOA’s Bureau of Environmental Program said Tuesday.

Schirmer, head of plant regulations, estimated more than 1,000 Illinois residents across the state reported receiving seed packets from a foreign country.

IDOA now recommends people seal and double bag the seed packets following its recommended procedure to prevent germination or contamination, Schirmer said. People are no longer being asked to report the seed packets, he added.

In late July, people across the United States reported receiving unwanted seed packets from foreign countries in the mail. USDA and many state departments of agriculture, including IDOA, warned people not to open or plant the seeds.

“We continue to get reports pretty consistently (from seed recipients),” Schirmer said. From a peak of 100 to 150 calls daily, the number has decreased to 25 to 30 calls each day.

IDOA recommends anyone who receives an unwanted packet of foreign seeds to not open it, but wrap it tightly in duct tape. That taped seed packet should be put in a zip-sealed sandwich bag with the air squeezed out. Put everything in a second zip-locked sandwich bag, squeezing out the air to make it as compact as possible. Use duct tape to entirely enclose the second sandwich bag containing the taped seed packet in the first sandwich bag. The double-bagged and taped package may be thrown in the garbage, according to Schirmer.

“The (two layers of) duct tape adds a barrier to prevent moisture (from reaching the seeds) and prevent them from germinating,” Schirmer said. “We don’t want people to bring them (seeds) into the house ... and where they make food.” Schirmer discouraged ideas about destroying seeds in an oven or microwave.

“We want to give folks the option to destroy the seeds in a safe and environmentally friendly manner,” Schirmer said.

Currently, IDOA employees are working through a backlog of calls and emails reporting foreign seed packets. Those individuals are being informed about how to properly dispose of the seeds, Schirmer said.

Individuals who receive and want to report receiving a seed packet may email agr.seeds@illinois.gov. They will receive an automatic reply detailing the safety disposal protocol.

As for the mystery seeds, Schirmer said he’d seen reports of the seeds being identified as vegetables, herbs, flowers and ornamentals, but no specific plants.