Heliciculture (snail farming) is the process of farming or raising snails.
Roasted snail shells have been found in archaeological excavations, an indication that snails have been eaten since prehistoric times In ancient Rome, snails were fattened up in "cochlear" gardens before they were eaten. "A Virginia Farmer" described keeping snails in a cool, moist and shady environment, supplying artificial dew if necessary, containing them on an "island" surrounded by water to prevent escape, supplying vegetation as feed, and fattening them on corn meal. Pliny described the snail garden of Fulvius Hirpinus 2,000 years ago as having separate sections for different species of snails. Hirpinus allegedly fed his snails on meal and wine. But note, stale beer placed in a shallow dish is a way of killing them. Snails are attracted to the yeast in beer and will crawl into the dish and drown.
The Romans selected the best snails for breeding. "Wall fish" were often eaten in Britain, but were never as popular as on the continent. There, people often ate snails during Lent, and in a few places, they consumed large quantities of snails at Mardi Gras or Carnival, as a foretaste of Lent.
According to some sources, the French imported brown garden snails to California in the 1850s, raising them as the delicacy escargot. Other sources claim that Italian immigrants were the first to bring the snail to the United States.
Edible land snails range in size from about one millimeter long to the giant African snails, which occasionally grow up to 312 mm (12¼ in) in length. "Escargot" most commonly refers to either Helix aspersa or to Helix pomatia, although other varieties of snails are eaten. Achatina fulica, a giant African snail, is sliced and canned and passed off on some consumers as escargot. Terms such as "garden snail" or "common brown garden snail" are rather meaningless since they refer to so many types of snails, but they sometimes mean H. aspersa.
"There is no such thing as the giant African or West African snail since there are many genera containing numerous species. . . . For instance, the giant snail in Ghana is taken to mean Achatina achatina (Linne), but in Nigeria this might refer to Arachachatina marginata (Swainson), and in East Africa to Achatina fulica Bodich. There are, therefore, several giant land snails in Africa, and not just one species." (3)
H. pomatia eggs measure about 3 mm in diameter and have a calcareous shell and a high yolk content. H. pomatia lays the eggs in July or August, 2 to 8 weeks after mating, in holes dug out in the ground. (Data varies widely on how long after mating snails lay eggs.) The snail puts its head into the hole or may crawl in until only the top of the shell is visible; then it deposits eggs from the genital opening just behind the head. It takes the snail 1 to 2 days to lay 30 to 50 eggs. Occasionally, the snail will lay about a dozen more a few weeks later. The snail covers the hole with a mixture of the slime it excretes and dirt. This slime, which the snail excretes to help it crawl and to help preserve the moisture in its soft body, is glycoprotein similar to eggwhite.
Fully-developed baby H. pomatia snails hatch about 3 to 4 weeks after the eggs are laid, depending on temperature and humidity. Birds, insects, mice, toads and other predators take a heavy toll on the young snails. The snails eat and grow until the weather turns cold. They then dig a deep hole, sometimes as deep as 1 foot, and seal themselves inside their shell and hibernate for the winter. This is a response to both decreasing temperature and shorter hours of daylight. When the ground warms up in spring, the snail emerges and goes on a binge of replacing lost moisture and eating.
In warm, damp climates, H. aspersa may lay eggs as often as five times from February through October, depending on the weather and region. Mating and egg-laying begin when there are at least 10 hours of daylight and continue until days begin to get shorter. In the United States, longer hours of sunlight that occur when temperatures are still too cold will affect this schedule, but increasing hours of daylight still stimulate egg laying. If warm enough, the eggs hatch in about 2 weeks, or in 4 weeks if cooler. It takes the baby snails several more days to break out of the sealed nest and climb to the surface. In a climate similar to southern California's, H. aspersa matures in about 2 years. In central Italy, H. aspersa hatches and emerges from the soil almost exclusively in the autumn. If well fed and not overcrowded, those snails that hatch at the start of the season will reach adult size and form a lip at the edge of their shell by the following June. If you manipulate the environment to get more early hatchlings, the size and number of snails that mature the following year will increase. In South Africa, some H. aspersa mature in 10 months, and under ideal conditions in a laboratory, some have matured in 6 to 8 months. Most of H. aspersa's reproductive activity takes place in the second year of its life.
Several factors can greatly influence the growth of snails including: population density; stress [snails are sensitive to noise, light, vibration, unsanitary conditions, irregular feedings, being touched, etc.]; feed; temperature and moisture; and the breeding technology used.
H. aspersa requires at least 3% to 4% calcium in the soil (or another source of calcium) for good growth. Most snails need more calcium in the soil than H. aspersa. Low calcium intake will slow the growth rate and cause the shell to be thinner. Calcium may be set out in a feeding dish or trough so the snails can eat it at will. Food is only one calcium source. Snails may eat paint or attack walls of buildings seeking calcium, and they also will eat dirt.
A newborn's shell size depends on the egg size since the shell develops from the egg's surface membrane. As the snail grows, the shell is added onto in increments. Eventually the shell will develop a flare or reinforcing lip at its opening. This shows that the snail is now mature; there will be no further shell growth. Growth is measured by shell size, since a snail's body weight varies and fluctuates, even in 100% humidity. The growth rate varies considerably between individuals in each population group. Adult size, which is related to the growth rate, also varies, thus the fastest growers are usually the largest snails. Eggs from larger, healthier snails also tend to grow faster and thus larger.
Dryness inhibits growth and even stops activity. When it becomes too hot and dry in summer, the snail becomes inactive, seals its shell and estivates (becomes dormant) until cooler, moister weather returns. Some snails estivate in groups on tree trunks, posts, or walls. They seal themselves to the surface thus sealing up the shell opening
Four Systems of Snail farms:
Climate: A mild climate (59-75 F) with high humidity (75% to 95%) is best for snail farming, though most varieties can stand a wider range of temperatures. The optimal temperature is 70 F for many varieties. When the temperature falls below 45 F, snails hibernate. Under 54 F the snails are inactive, and under 50 F, all growth stops. When the temperature rises much above 80 F or conditions become too dry, snails estivate. Wind is bad for snails because it speeds up moisture loss, and snails must retain moisture.
Moisture: Snails need damp, not wet, environments. Although snails need moisture, you must drain wet or waterlogged soil to make it suitable for them. Similarly, rainwater must run off promptly. Snails breathe air and may drown in overly wet surroundings. A soil moisture content of 80% of capacity is favorable. In the hours of darkness, air humidity over 80% will promote good snail activity and growth.
Ninety-nine percent of snail activity, including feeding, occurs in the cool, dark nighttime, with peak activity taking place 2 to 3 hours after darkness begins. The cooler temperature stimulates activity, and the nighttime dew helps the snail move easily. They hide in sheltered places during most of the day. If necessary, use misting sprayers, like those used for plant propagation, in dry climates to maintain adequate humidity and moisture levels.
Soil: Use a good medium soil that has neither a lot of sand nor too much clay. Snails cannot dig into hard, dry clay, and soils with too much sand or too little water. Soil that contains 20% to 40% organic matter is good. The soil should be similar to that of a garden in which green, leafy vegetables thrive. If your snail farm contains plants, keep them wet and properly care for them. Regularly remove any weeds. Neutralize soil that is too acidic with lime to make it suitable (at about pH 7). Besides the pH value of the soil, calcium must be available either from the soil or another readily available source, since snail shells are 97% to 98% calcium carbonate. If in doubt, you can add a little ground limestone. One researcher treats the soil with polyacrylamide at the rate of 12.5 cm³ of a 160 g M.A./one preparation in 250 cc of water per kilogram of dry soil. This stabilization treatment helps the soil structure resist washing. This allows regular cleaning without destroying the crumb structure of the soil that is beneficial for egg laying.
Snails dig in soil and ingest it. Good soil favors snail growth and provides some of their nutrition. Lack of access to good soil may cause fragile shells even when the snails have well-balanced feed; the snails growth may lag far behind the growth of other snails on good soil. Snails will often eat feed, then go eat dirt. Sometimes, they will eat only one or the other. This may be one reason that you should not crowd too many snails into too small a pen. The soil, unless frequently changed, will become fouled with mucus and droppings. Chemical changes also may occur in the soil. A mixture of peat, clay, compost, CaCO3 at pH 7 makes a very good soil. Leaf mold at pH 7 works almost as well. Organic matter in the soil seems as important as carbonates. Soils that are richest in exchangeable calcium and magnesium stimulate growth best. Usable carbonates and total calcium are important. Calcium may be added to the soil at the rate of 10 pounds per 100 square feet. Calcium may also be set out in a feeding dish or trough so the snails can eat it at will.
Enclosures for snails are usually long and thin instead of square. This allows you to walk around (without harming the snails) and reach in the whole pen. The enclosure may be a trough with sides made of wood, block, fiber cement sheets, or galvanized sheet steel. Cover it with screen or netting. The covering will confine the snails and keep out birds and other predators. Fences or walls are usually 2 feet high plus at least 5 inches into the ground. Fencing made of galvanized metal or hard-plastic sheets helps keep out some predators. A cover will protect against heavy rain. Shade (which may be a fine mesh screen) on warm winter days helps keep the snails dormant. Use 5 mm mesh or finer for pen screens or fences. Pens containing baby snails will need a finer mesh.
Snails like hiding places, especially during the warm daytime. For example, purchase plastic soil drainage pipes from the local garden center, split them in two lengthwise, and stack one layer one way and the next layer at a right angle. This will provide shelter and will increase by 50% the number of snails you can put in the pen.
A sprinkler system will ensure moisture when needed. Turn it on at sunset. If turned on early in the day, the moisture may drive snails out into hot sunshine. Monitor temperature and humidity using a thermometer and a hygrometer.
Although you can use fencing for the enclosure's sides, the bottom, if not the ground or trays of dirt, must be a surface more solid than screening. A snail placed in a wire-mesh-bottom pen will keep crawling, trying to get off the wires and onto solid, more comfortable ground.
Preventing escapes: In an open pen, curve the top of the fences inward in a half circle to confine the vineyard snail. H. aspersa will escape from such an open pen, so you could use an electric fence to contain them. [The electric fence top has two or more thin wires that are 2 to 4 mm apart. Each wire carries the opposite charge of the wire next to it. Use a battery or transformer to supply 4 to 12 volts to the wire. A snail will get a mild shock and retract when it crawls over a wire and touches a second wire.]
Another technique to confine snails is to bend the fence top inward into a sharp "V" shape with about a 20 degree angle. The snail's shell will hit the bent-back part of the screen before he can reach up and start crawling on it. This blocks him, and the angled screen automatically compensates for the size of the snail.
Another alternative, especially handy for solid wall enclosures, is to attach to the wall a horizontal piece of screen that projects inward several inches over the enclosure. Make the screen with material like nylon monofilament that is moderately stiff and springy yet easily flexible. On the inside edge of the screen, remove the cross fibers until you've created a fringe several inches wide. As the would-be escapee crawls on the underside of the screen and moves out onto the fringe, his weight pulls several individual fibers down. One by one, another fiber gets away from the snail and springs back up out of reach. Eventually the snail is dangling by a thread. He then falls because the surface area is not big enough to crawl on.
Since snails usually will not cross a copper band, another solution is to top the fence with 3-inch-wide (or wider) copper band. You could bend the band so that part of it faces inward and is parallel to the pen floor. If the band is placed too close to the ground, rain may wash soil against the copper and leave a residue that may enable the snail to cross it. Also, be sure to bury the bottom of the fence deep enough into the ground so that the snails don't dig under it.
Pens with gardens: An alternate method is to make a square pen with a 10-foot-square garden in it. Plant about six crops, e.g., nettles and artichokes, inside the pen. The snails choose what they want to eat. If it has not rained, turn sprinklers on for about 15 minutes at dusk, unless the snails are dormant. A disadvantage to this method is that, if the snails are not mature at the end of the year, it is difficult to replant fresh plant crops in the pens.
Plastic tunnels make cheap, easy snail enclosures, but it is difficult to regulate heat and humidity. The tunnel will be 10 to 20 warmer than the outside, and snails become dormant as the temperature climbs above 80 °F (27 °C.
Indoor pens: With snails raised indoors under controlled conditions, reproduction varies according to the geographic origin of the breeding stock. For example, one researcher found that H. aspersa snails from Brittany seem to do better indoors than snails from another region. To breed snails indoors, keep the temperature at 70 °F and the relative humidity at 80% to 90%; some sources say 95%. Another source recommends 75% humidity by day and 95% at night. The Center for Heliciculture once recommended 65-75% humidity during the day and 85-95% at night at 68 F. In any event, avoid humidity higher than 95% (some say 90%) for any length of time. Excessive humidity can kill snails. Optimum temperature and relative humidity depend on several things, including the snail variety and even where breeding stock was gathered. For H. aspersa, the optimum temperature for hatching eggs seems to be 68 °F (20 °C)at 100% relative humidity. The second best temperature/humidity combination depends on where the snails came from and results can drop drastically to 0% hatching at 17 °C (63 °F) and 100% humidity. Err on the side of a few degrees warmer or a small percentage dryer. Do not keep the soil wet when the humidity is maintained at 100%, as the eggs will absorb water, swell up, and burst.
Use fluorescent lights to give artificial daylight. Different snails respond differently to day length. The ratio of light to darkness influences activity, feeding, and mating andegg-laying. Eighteen or more hours of light apparently stimulate H. aspersa growth, while less than 12 hours inhibit it. Some snail species may associates the long hours of light with the start of summer--the peak growing season. Eighteen hours of daylight also appear optimal for breeding (mating and egg laying), but snails will breed in darkness.
Breeding boxes and cages: Snails can be bred in boxes or cages stacked several units high. Use an automatic sprinkler system to provide moisture. Breeding cages should have a feed trough and a water trough. Plastic trays that are a couple of inches deep are adequate; deeper water troughs increase the chance of snails drowning in them. These trays may be set on a bed of small gravel. Fill small plastic pots, e.g., flower pots about 3 inches deep, with sterilized dirt (or a loamy pH neutral soil) and set them in the gravel to give the snails a place to lay their eggs. Remove and replace each pot after the snails lay eggs. (Set one pot inside another so that you can easily lift one out without shifting the gravel.)
After the snails have laid their eggs, put the pots in a nursery where the eggs will hatch. Keep the young snails in the nursery for about 6 weeks. Then move them to a separate pen as young snails do best if kept with other snails of similar size. Eight hours of daylight is optimal for young snails.
The following is an example of starting H. pomatia in boxes: Build wooden boxes measuring 25 by 35cm and 25cm high. Cut a 6cm-diameter hole (to drain excess moisture) in the bottom and cover the hole with plastic screening, well secured. Cover a frame with plastic screening to create the box lid. The lids either must open or be removable. Keep the boxes on shelves so they are easily accessible. Fill the boxes one-third full with loose, uncompacted garden soil baked to kill all organisms (insects, nematodes, bacteria, etc.). [Use soil that does not have fertilizer or chemicals in it.] Partially cover the soil with moss, but leave enough room for the snails to crawl around on the dirt. Sprinkle water on the moss.
Move to boxes (three per box) those snails in the outdoor pen that are starting to make holes in which to lay their eggs. After the snails lay eggs, return them to the outside pen. The soil in the boxes must not dry out. Always keep the moss slightly moist. Too much moisture is dangerous, however, as the eggs may swell up and burst. The eggs hatch in about 25 days, but the baby snails remain in the egg "shells." They then work their way out of the nest for about 10 additional days before they appear on the moss and on the sides of the box. Snails on the wood sides of the box are in danger of drying out and must be carefully removed and put on the moss. Shells are very fragile at this time.
Feed the baby snails tender lettuce leaves (Boston type, but head type is probably just as good.) [This description does not include a water trough, but the authors assume there is one. The snails should have water available.]
Three weeks after the snails appear on the moss, carefully remove the baby snails and put them together in a temporary container. Carefully remove the moss and dirt, watching for any more baby snails. Replace the dirt and moss with fresh (sterilized/baked) dirt and fresh moss. Count and return the snails to the box.
The young snails can be kept over winter in these boxes. Stack the boxes in a cool room protected from frost. The room should never get colder than 0 °C nor warmer than 3 °C (32 °F to 37 °F). Snails will become active again the following spring when the temperature rises above 5 °C (41 °F). Feed them for 4 weeks. They should now average about 8 mm. Move them to a pen, carefully clean and dry the boxes, and prepare the boxes for the new season. H. pomatia matures in 18 months to 4 years.
Mixed system: A variation of the method above is to let the snails lay the eggs in the outdoor pen, then carefully transfer the eggs to the boxes. [The other steps are the same.] In the pen, look for snails that have dug holes and are in them laying eggs. The tip of their shell will be visible. Stick a marker in the ground next to the hole. When the snail is finished and leaves, use a garden trowel to dig up the eggs and move them. This task is difficult. The eggs can be both physically damaged and covered with dirt.
Example: Five stages of snail raising
Some who raise H. aspersa separate the five stages: reproduction, hatching, young, fattening, and final fattening.
In a typical example, the breeding box has concrete sides, soil with earthworms (to cleanse the soil) on the bottom, vegetation, curved tiles to provide shelter, feeders, and a chicken waterer. Mosquito netting or screening covers the top. These breeding boxes may be outside, or you may get better results when the boxes are inside a greenhouse--as long as the greenhouse does not get too hot or too dry. One researcher reported that in outdoor boxes, each breeder snail had about seven young. In greenhouses, each breeder snail had about 9 to 12 young. The researcher felt that under better weather conditions than those he had that year, each adult breeder snail would have produced 15 young snails.
Fattening pens may be outside or in a greenhouse. High summer temperatures and insufficient moisture cause dwarfing and malformations of some snails. This is more a problem inside greenhouses if the sun overheats the building. A sprinkler system (e.g., a horticultural system or common lawn sprinklers) can supply moisture. Make sure excess water can drain.
Fattening pens may contain 2-foot by 3-foot pieces (or other convenient size) of heavy plastic sheets, hung from boards resting on a rack that lets the tips of the plastic sheets just touch the ground. The plastic sheets are about 4 inches apart. The sheets give the snails a resting and hiding place. Feeders may be located on the rack that supports the plastic sheets.
Put a layer of coarse sand and topsoil with earthworms on the fattening pen's bottom. The worms help clean up the snail droppings.
You can put snails that hatched the previous summer in a chilled room for hibernation over winter. Then, about the 1st of April, (adjusted for your local climate), move them to the final fattening pen. If you have several fattening pens, put the smaller snails in one, medium in another, large in another. Do not exceed one-third pound of H. aspersa snails per square foot of pen. Since snails lose weight when they estivate in summer, some growers do not stock pens by weight but by count. For H. aspersa, 10 to 12 snails per square foot is about the maximum.
Breeding pens can be set up just like the fattening pens or the fattening pens can be used as breeding pens after you harvest the mature snails. Harvest some snails and leave some to breed.
Snails gathered in the wild to stock a snail farm may have a high mortality rate as they adjust to the new conditions. These snails may have consumed poison baits, agricultural chemicals, or poisonous plants (e.g., nightshade); therefore, you should not immediately use them. Put them in a pen and feed them for at least 3 days to purge their system of any toxins and to give them a chance to die if they have consumed a lethal dose. If they are still healthy after 3 or 4 days, they should be okay. Withhold all food, except water, for the last 1 to 2 days.
Put the breeding snails in the breeding pens in April or early May. Feed until mid June when mating begins and the snails stop feeding. Snails resume eating after they lay eggs. Once snails have laid their eggs, you can remove the adult snails. This leaves more food and less crowding for the hatchlings.
Snails of the same species collected from different regions may have different food preferences. Some foods that snails eat are: Alyssum, fruit and leaves of apple, apricot, artichoke (a favorite), aster, barley, beans, bindweed, California boxwood, almost any cabbage variety, camomile, carnation, carrot, cauliflower, celeriac (root celery), celery, ripe cherries, chive, citrus, clover, cress, cucumbers (a favorite snail food), dandelion, elder, henbane, hibiscus, hollyhock, kale, larkspur, leek, lettuce (liked, and makes good snails), lily, magnolia, mountain ash, mulberry, mums, nasturtium, nettle, nightshade berries, oats, onion greens, pansy, parsley, peach, ripe pears, peas, petunia, phlox, plum, potatoes (raw or cooked), pumpkins, radish, rape, rose, sorrel, spinach, sweet pea, thistle, thorn apple, tomatoes (well liked), turnip, wheat, yarrow, zinnia. They will eat sweet lupines, but will reject bitter lupines and other plants with high quinolizidine alkaloids. Snails also avoid plants that produce other defensive chemicals, defensive stem hairs, etc.
Snails usually prefer juicy leaves and vegetables over dry ones. If you feed snails vegetable trimmings, damaged fruit, and cooked potatoes, promptly remove uneaten food as it will quickly spoil. You may supply bran that is wet or sprinkle dry bran over leafy vegetables. The diet may consist of 20% wheat bran while 80% is fruit and vegetable material. Some growers use oats, corn meal, soybean meal, or chicken mash. Laying mash provides calcium, as does crushed oyster shells. Snails also may eat materials such as cardboard (but do not purposely feed it to them); they can eat through shipping cartons and escape. Snails may sometimes eat, within a 24-hour period, food equal to 10%, and occasionally as much as 20%, of their body weight. Active snails deprived of food will lose more than one-third of their weight before they starve to death--a process that takes 8 to 12 weeks. Estivating snails can survive much longer.
Supply calcium at least once a week if it is not available in the soil. It should not contain harmful salts or be so alkaline as to burn the snails. Mix calcium with wet bran or mashed potatoes and serve on a pan; this will keep any leftover food from rotting on the ground.
Some researchers use chicken mash for feed. You can cut a plastic pipe in half lengthwise to make two troughs which can be used as feeders for mash. Mix laying mash (used for egg-producing hens) into the feed to provide calcium for the snails' shells. Commercial chicken feeding mash is around 16% to 17% protein, from fish meal and meat meal, making it good for growing snails. Supplying mash to hatchlings might reduce cannibalism. Two feeds that snails like and that promote good growth are: (A) broiler finisher mash consisting of 7% broiler concentrate, 58% corn, 16% soya, 18% sorghum, 7 % limestone flour (40% Ca); and (B) chicken feed (pellets) for layers consisting of 5% layer concentrate, 10%, corn, 15% soya, 20% sorghum, 44% barley, 6% limestone flour (40%Ca).
Pellets are fine for larger snails, but mash is better for younger ones. Partially crush pellets if you feed them to young snails. Snails do not grow well if rabbit pellets are their primary diet. Snails show a distinct preference for moist feed. Ensure easy access to enough water if you feed snails dry mash.
Be sure to frequently clean the feed and water dishes. The amount of feed a snail eats depends very much on air humidity and on the availability of drinking water. You can serve clean drinking water in a shallow container to reduce the risk of the snail drowning. Some types of chicken waterers may be suitable. Other factors (e.g., temperature, light intensity, food preferences versus food supplied, etc.) also affect feeding. A compromise, until you find the optimum feed, is to feed half green vegetable material and half chicken feed/grain/animal protein.
Young H. aspersa readily eats milk powder. Its rapid rate of assimilation promotes rapid growth.
Parasites, nematodes, trematodes, fungi, and microarthropods may attack snails, and such problems can spread rapidly when snail populations are dense. The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes intestinal infections that can spread rapidly in a crowded snail pen.
Watch for predators such as: rats, mice, moles, skunks, weasels, birds, frogs and toads, lizards, walking insects (e.g., some beetle and cricket varieties), some types of flies, centipedes, and even certain cannibalistic snail varieties (such as Strangesta capillacea).
Snails tend not to breed when packed too densely or when the slime in the pen accumulates too much. The slime apparently works like a pheromone and suppresses reproduction. On the other hand, snails in groups of about 100 seem to breed better than when only a few snails are confined together. Perhaps they have more potential mates from which to choose. Snails in a densely populated area grow more slowly even when food is abundant, and they also have a higher mortality rate. These snails then become smaller adults who lay fewer clutches of eggs, have fewer eggs per clutch, and the eggs have a lower hatch rate. Smaller adult snails sell for less. Dwarfing is quite common in snail farming and is attributable mainly to rearing conditions rather than heredity factors. Crowding snails is false economy. A recommended rate for H. aspersa is not more than one-third pound per square foot (3.6 kg/m²) of soil surface for snails that weigh more than 1 gram and not more than 0.2 pound per square foot (2.2 kg/m²) for snails that weigh less. (One ounce is about 28 grams.)
The nutrient composition of raw snails (per 100 grams of edible portion), according to information from the nutrient databank of France, is:
Snails are washed, steamed, shelled, then washed in a vinegar- (or lemon juice) and water-solution before they are canned. Producing a quality canned product is somewhat tricky, and you must take care to prevent food poisoning. To prepare live snails for cooking, remove the membrane, if any, over the shell opening. Soak the snails in enough water to cover them. (Add 1/2-cup salt or 1/4-cup vinegar for every 50 snails.) Mucus will turn the water white. Change the water several times during the 3- to 4-hour soaking. Rinse several times or under running water until no mucus remains. Put snails in cold water and bring to a boil. Boil about eight minutes, then drain and plunge the snails into cold water. Drain. With a needle or small fork, pick the snails out of their shells. Remove the intestine and cut off all black parts. (Some cooks also cut off the head, tail, and all "cartilage or gristle.") Prepare according to your recipe. An alternate method is: Wash the snails well in clear water. Drop into boiling salt water (to which you may add lemon juice and/or herbs), and cook--about 10-15 minutes--until you can easily remove the snails from their shells. Drain and rinse.
Prepare the giant African snail by breaking away the shell, then cutting the foot away from the rest of the body. The traditional way to remove the slime is to rub wood ashes on the snail, then wash the snail (or part of the snail) under running water, then repeat until no slime remains. You may substitute substances like flour (to which you may add salt and vinegar) for ashes. Cut up the foot into convenient-sized pieces. [You may dehydrate the leftover visceral mass, crush it up with the shell, and mix it in poultry feed to make up 10% of your snail feed.] Another source says put the live snails in boiling water for 30 minutes to kill them and to make removal from the shell easy. During boiling, the snails will release a large quantity of mucus. Data varies, but 28% to 46% of the live weight of Achatina is shell.
The Federal Plant Pest Act defines a plant pest as "any living stage (including active and dormant forms) of insects, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, protozoa, or other invertebrate animals, bacteria, fungi, other parasitic plants or reproductive parts thereof; viruses; or any organisms similar to or allied with any of the foregoing; or any infectious substances, which can directly or indirectly injure or cause disease or damage in or to any plants or parts thereof, or any processed, manufactured, or other products of plants..." The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) categorizes giant African snails as a "quarantine significant plant pest." The United States does not allow live giant African snails into the country under any circumstances. It is illegal to own or to possess them. APHIS vigorously enforces this regulation and destroys or returns these snails to their country of origin.
Since large infestations of snails can do devastating damage, many states have quarantines against nursery products, and other products, from infested states. Further, it is illegal to import snails (or slugs) into the U.S. without permission from the Plant Protection and Quarantine Division(PPQ) , Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. APHIS also oversees interstate transportation of snails. Anyone who plans to "import, release, or make interstate shipments of" snails, must complete APHIS's PPQ Form 526, Application and Permit to Move Live Plant Pests and Noxious Weeds. Submit the form to your State regulatory official. The state will process the request and make a recommendation to APHIS who will then make a decision.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the canning of low-acid foods such as snails. According to FDA, "establishments engaged in the manufacture of Low-acid or Acidified Canned Foods (LACF) offered for interstate commerce in the United States are required. . .to register their facility. . .and file scheduled processes for their products with" the FDA. This does not refer to fresh products. For appropriate forms, contact: LACF Registration Coordinator, HFS-618, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 200 C Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20204. Telephone: (202) 205-5282. FAX: (202) 205-4758 or (202) 205-4128.
Improper canning of low-acid meats, e.g., snails, involves a risk of botulism. When canning snails for home consumption, carefully follow canning instructions for low-acid meats to prevent food poisoning.
State laws also may apply to imports into certain states and to raising snails in a given state. Your state also may want to inspect and approve your facility. Thus anyone who plans to raise snails also should check with their State's Agriculture Department.