November 29, 2014

Here's How Much Mouse Poop, Maggots, and Cigarette Butts the FDA Allows in Your Food

The FDA Defect Levels Handbook might be the most disgusting government manual in existence. It spells out how much mold, rot, parasites, bugs, and other contamination the administration will allow in your food.

So how does stuff like that get into your lunch? It's natural, says Martin Bucknavage, a food safety specialist at Pennsylvania State University.

"Our food comes from outside," he says. "When you harvest grain, there will be a bug in there somewhere."

Other contamination—like mouse poop—can occur after a crop has been harvested, when the food is being processed at a factory, stored, or in transit.

Sure, it's gross to read about the unwanted components in your food, but the FDA sets the limits at levels that pose no threat to your health, according to the handbook. "You shouldn't be worried," says Bucknavage. "A grasshopper leg in your peanut butter won't make you sick."

And the FDA restrictions don't give a food manufacturing company the right to permit contamination just below the allowable limit. Food processing systems are much cleaner than they used to be, so the probability of contamination is little, says Bucknavage.

However, contaminants can be an indicator that something is wrong, he says. A mouse hair in your macaroni won't hurt you, but too many hairs can be evidence of an infestation at the factory. That could mean pathogens—bacteria, viruses, or microorganisms that can cause disease—make it into your food. It's for this exact reason that the FDA sets limits, says Bucknavage.

Keep reading for a list of 10 extra "ingredients" allowed in your food. Bon appetit!

Bugs in Your Broccoli

Tiny bugs such as aphids, thrips, or mites can hitch a ride from the broccoli field into that bag of frozen veggies you're about to stir-fry. The FDA's limit is an average of 60 or more creatures per 100 grams—that translates to 204 pests in your 12-ounce bag of frozen broccoli. 

Cigarette Butts in Your Pepper

Your favorite spice can contain traces of foreign matter, which the FDA casually defines as "sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc." 

Mouse Poop in Your Cornmeal

Ever notice some dark specks in your cornmeal? The handbook allows for up to 13 "fragments" of rodent excreta in a 24-ounce container. 

Maggots in Your Tomatoes

The government permits three maggots in your 28-ounce can of tomatoes. 

Grasshopper Legs in Your Peanut Butter

In a regular-sized 16-ounce jar of peanut butter, the FDA will allow up to 136 insect fragments and four rodent hairs. 

Parasites in Your Rockfish

The FDA won't allow more than 3 percent of filets to contain copepods, parasitic crustaceans that dwell in fish flesh and form pus pockets there. 

Rat Hair in Your Pasta

You won't find more than nine rodent hairs in your 16-ounce box of pasta. 

Bugs in Your Beer

There must be less than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops. (See, there's protein in your beer!) 

Fly Eggs in Your Raisins

In a 15-ounce box of golden raisins, the government will not allow more than 65 fly eggs. 

Caterpillars in Your Spinach

The FDA has a surprisingly complicated formula for spinach caterpillars. In a bulk amount of 24 pounds of frozen spinach, there has to be two or more larvae that are at least 3 millimeters long or caterpillars—when lined up head to abdomen—whose total length equals 12 millimeters for the government to take action. 

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