There's Crap in Our Food. Literally.


Eat a bug-whether you want to or not. Photo credit Allim

Whether you grow it yourself or buy it processed, there is unwanted stuff in our food. But how much? What kind? The recent poison peanut scandal found salmonella, roaches and mold in the plant, but it is really just a matter of degree. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration produces a manual that sets out those limits- "The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans." (dowload a PDF of it here)

It is not pretty reading, and makes one suddenly interested in Breatharianism.

Lousy screenshot of the manual because pictures of maggots were too disgusting.

The FDA says it is an aesthetic issue, that the stuff is harmless in such quantities. They also say that you can't do much about it, that it is "impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defect," so they try to set limits.

E.J. Levy wrote in the New York Times:


Tomato juice, for example, may average "10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots." Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.

Canned mushrooms may have "over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid" or "five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid" or an "average of 75 mites" before provoking action by the F.D.A.

The sauerkraut on your hot dog may average up to 50 thrips. And when washing down those tiny, slender, winged bugs with a sip of beer, you might consider that just 10 grams of hops could have as many as 2,500 plant lice. Yum.

Giving new meaning to the idea of spicing up one's food, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.

Peanut butter — that culinary cause célèbre — may contain approximately 145 bug parts for an 18-ounce jar; or five or more rodent hairs for that same jar; or more than 125 milligrams of grit.

What can one say, other than the more stuff that you buy unprocessed and wash and prepare yourself, the more control you have over what is in your food. And also, that the stuff may be ugly but hey, it's protein. And that ultimately, nobody is really a vegetarian.

The Maggots in Your Mushrooms
The Food Defect Action Levels

More on Food Contamination:

FDA Can't Make Peanut Butter Better: But The FBI Might Figure Out How
Director of Consumers Union says, Peanut Butter Epidemic Should ...
Time For the Annual Irradiated Food Drive
Scared of Salmonella? Make Your Own Peanut Butter
More on Vegetarianism:
On Moving Toward Vegetarianism

Tags: Vegetarian

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