How Much Vermin Is in Your Food?

It seems safe to assume when grocery shopping or eating out at a restaurant, that the food is safe and free from vermin. While it’s usually safe to assume the former, it turns out that we should never assume the latter. In fact, we should expect a percentage of vermin in all the foods we eat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually has standards to limit, but not eliminate, critters and other contaminants in the foods we eat. In other words, there is a tolerance level—and that surprises many people.

The FDA recognizes total elimination of vermin, that is, rodent feces, insect parts, fruit fly eggs and other larvae as impossible and so sets minimum standards for the presence of these items. How much vermin do we actually eat? A chocolate bar may contain 30 or more insect parts and a sprinkling of rodent hair, reports CNN. How much vermin is in other foods you love? Let's look.

The Impossibility of Vermin-Free Food

Vermin referred to as food defects or foreign material, is unavoidable according to the FDA. They say it's economically impractical to grow, harvest or process products that have zero levels of contamination. Why? Bugs and vermin are everywhere — in the fields where foods are grown, in the facilities where they are processed and in the stores and restaurants in which they are sold.

With so much potential for contamination, it's often a matter of when, not if, food picks up vermin. The FDA recognizes this, but also wants to keep levels of contamination to a minimum. That’s why they’ve established a series of guidelines regarding food contaminants. Let's look at what they are.

The FDA’s Regulations Regarding Food Defects

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises in their Foreign Material Manual that guidelines are established with the following in mind: significance to public health, origin of the pest and concentration of the contaminant. The guidelines are very specific and designate explicit levels for all types of materials, ranging from non-discernable items (insect fragments) to highly harmful items (whole animals or non-edible matter).

The good news is that in no way do these regulations give a free pass to food growers, harvesters and manufacturers. If it's found that contaminants are introduced due to negligence, steps will be taken to ensure that all relevant procedures are followed. If it's found that a company is cutting corners by gaming the system, charges may even be filed.

How Much Vermin is in Popular Foods?

You may be surprised by how much vermin and contaminants are in the foods you eat every day. Check out how much of these gross things are in your favorite indulgences:

  • Mites - Mushrooms can contain up to 75 mites per 100 grams. Broccoli can contain up to 60.
  • Maggots - Canned tomato juice and canned fruit juice may contain up to one maggot per 100 grams and one maggot per one cup, respectively.
  • Rodent Hair - Rodent hair is allowed in certain concentrations in a host of foods, including spices, peanut butter, popcorn, apple butter, chocolate and macaroni, among others. How much? A sprinkling in chocolate, and apple butter can have as many as four rodent hairs for every 3.5 ounces.
  • Excrement - Cocoa beans are allowed up to 10 mg or more of mammalian excreta per pound of product. Cornmeal can have up to 1 fragment of rodent feces per 50 grams.

Is your stomach turning just a bit? Sorry about that. Before you swear off eating for life, keep in mind that you have been consuming vermin from the moment your parents gave you your first bite of food. That's just how it is. And isn't it better to know? What’s more, at the levels the FDA allows, critter parts and other nasties are completely harmless. And, since you can’t avoid them, it’s probably pointless to dwell on it. If it helps, do what we did: share the burden by enlightening others.

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1/21/2020 8:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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