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Death of cockroach-eating contest winner in Florida puzzles experts

Sarah Bernard / AP

This frame grab made from video on Oct. 5 shows Edward Archbold competing in a roach-eating contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

It could be weeks before autopsy results can determine why a 32-year-old Florida man collapsed and died after winning a cockroach-eating contest.

Insect experts say the mere act of eating roaches, while repulsive to many, shouldn’t have killed Edward Archbold. Some theorize Archbold may have had an allergic reaction.

Archbold ate more than 60 grams of meal worms, 35 three-inch-long “super worms” and part of a bucket full of discoid roaches to win the “Midnight Madness” bug-eating competition Friday night at Ben Siegel Reptiles in Deerfield Beach, about 40 miles north of Miami, according to The Miami Herald. The take-home grand prize was a python from the reptile shop.


Shortly after winning the contest, Archbold became ill and began to vomit, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said. He collapsed in front of the store and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The medical examiner's office said Tuesday that it has sent samples of Archbold's remains for testing, but results are not expected for another week or two.

“We know cockroaches shed a lot of allergens, but they’re not toxic in and of themselves,” Bill Kern, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida, told The Miami Herald. “Very few [human] cultures tend to eat cockroaches because they store large amounts of uric acid and nitrogenous waste. And they tend to be scavengers and feed on things most people wouldn’t consider to be desirable.”

Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, told The Associated Press it's possible that Archbold "hit his tolerance level to cockroach allergens" and went into anaphylactic shock.

Tringale said that such a severe reaction to cockroaches is "probably rare," however.

Coby Schal, a North Carolina State University entomologist, also surmised that the death was likely an allergic response, "but there is always a possibility that cockroaches do carry bacteria, but the response won't be immediate. It would take time for bacteria to be a problem."

Michael Adams, professor of entomology at the University of California at Riverside, says he's never heard of someone dying after consuming roaches. "Unless the roaches were contaminated with some bacteria or other pathogens, I don't think that cockroaches would be unsafe to eat," Adams told the AP. "Some people do have allergies to roaches, but there are no toxins in roaches or related insects."

The Broward County medical examiner's office said Tuesday it has sent samples of Archbold's remains for testing, but results are not expected for another week or two.

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All the contestants in the bug-eating competition had signed a waiver acknowledging the risks of illness, adverse reactions and injury associated with eating live insects, the store said.

The live discoid roaches were brought out for the final round of the contest. Luke Lirot, an attorney representing Ben Siegel, the store’s owner, told the Herald that the roaches, which are sold as reptile feed, are “raised in a sterile container from the time they’re little critters" and are perfectly safe to eat.

One contestant, Matthew Karwacki, 26, who won a lesser platinum ball python in the cricket-eating contest, said he ate one roach before tapping out. “The taste did not suit me, but the texture for sure was the worst part,” Karwacki told the Herald. “If you could look inside a dirty gutter and scoop up what’s in there, that’s what went through my head. All the other contestants kept eating roaches, but I had to look away.”

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Sarah Bernard, an entomology student at the University of Florida, shot cellphone video of Archbold during the competition. Bernard said she did not see Archbold immediately after the competition ended. She recalled that an announcer said "the winner was vomiting somewhere, and we'll congratulate him when he comes back," according to the AP.

Ben Siegel Reptile Store said the prize python, reportedly worth $850, will go to Archbold's estate.

Archbold's co-workers at Busch Canvas, which does canvas work for yachts and restaurants, have set up a fund for his daughter, who will turn 7 years old next week, the Palm Beach Post reported

Archbold’s death has officials at Six Flags Great America in Chicago reviewing whether to continue with its “Friday Night Feast,” a weekly contest that invites guests to eat five Madagascar hissing cockroaches, the Chicago-Sun-Times reported.

“We were sorry to learn about the unfortunate incident at the reptile store in Florida and our hearts go out to the gentleman’s friends and family,” park officials said Tuesday, according to the Sun-Times. “We are confident our eating contests are safe as the insects we use are raised specifically for human consumption. Insects are considered a delicacy in many cultures; however, even though this appears to be an isolated incident, we are reviewing the eating contests at our parks to ensure we maintain a safe environment for our guests.”

NBC News' James Eng and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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