Fans of Calbee chips might consider them to be “the bomb.” A return of this particular colloquialism, however, is not why the words “potato” and “grenade” have repeatedly ended up together in headlines recently alongside mentions the brand.
On Saturday, a (literal) bomb squad visited the snack food company’s Hong Kong factory after a potato-processing machine found a grenade among a shipment of potatoes, according to the South China Morning Post. Covered in dirt, the small explosive looked like a potato but was far heavier. Over a few hours, bomb disposal technicians defused the grenade, with no injuries or accidents.
Dave Macri, a visiting professor of military history at the University of Hong Kong, told the SCMP that the German-made grenade was probably left behind by World War I soldiers in a trench that has since become a field for growing potatoes in France.
Grenades pop into food news with surprising frequency. The previous weekend, magnet-fishers in Ocala, Florida caused the evacuation of a Taco Bell after bringing along a WWII grenade they’d pulled out of a river. The Ocala PD told MUNCHIES that they're not sure how the grenade ended up there or why it was taken to a Taco Bell, but another fast food grenade incident provides a possible explanation—at least for the first mystery. In 2015, construction workers dug up a hand grenade at a Maryland McDonald’s. According a bomb technician on site at the time, that one had likely come from an old military base nearby.
As it turns out, downtown Ocala isn’t far from the Pinecastle Impact Range, which is smack-dab in the middle of the Ocala National Forest. The Navy has tested live bombs there since World War II, which, according to Gizmodo, results in loud noises, shaky ground, and WWII-era munitions just sort of lying around.
Nobody got hurt in any of those examples, but war leftovers like these do cause problems—including fatalities. Farmers are at particular risk because, when wars are over, trenches get buried in fields, and so do any leftover grenades and shells.
In 2011, a Canadian potato farmer was tilling his fields, when he came across a live hand grenade from WWII; and last July, a British farmer found yet another from the same era. As the New York Times reported in 2014, Belgium farmers live in fear because experts estimate that as much as 30 percent of artillery shells that were fired there in WWII never went off.
“The amount of unexploded ordnance in France from both World Wars is significant. WWI on the Western Front was fought mostly in France and troops routinely conducted attacks with the use of grenades like the one that was accidentally shipped to Hong Kong,” Macri told MUNCHIES in an email. “Farmland in France can contain a great amount of old munitions and it is very difficult to find and remove much of this material.”
Take, for example, the Belgian region of Flanders, which was the site of the Battle of Messines during WWI. That operation involved building miles of trenches beneath German lines, and then filling them with explosives. Not all of the trenches that were built and filled were detonated, however, and now those explosives have been buried. One farm built on top of these trenches was still being used, as of a 2004 Telegraph report, despite sitting on tens of thousands of pounds of explosives.
These days, underground ammunition can be found using radar, and then, ideally, detonated in a protected way. According to the Times’ 2014 report, though, not all farmers are convinced doing so is a good idea since digging up those deeply-buried shells could alter the soil of their workable farmland.
“[The stockpile of explosives] doesn't stop me sleeping at night,” the farmer living on top of an incidental minefield told the Telegraph. “It's been there all that time, why should it decide to blow up now?”