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What Defects the FDA Allows in 11 Types of Food

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istock

Because of the way foods are mass harvested, factory processed and packaged in the States, the FDA has to allow food companies to include a certain number of “defects” in the final products. The term “defects,” we learned, is code for the inclusion of “foreign matter” in canned and packaged foods, including insects, insect parts, rodent hairs, larvae, rodent poop, mammal poop, bone material, mold, rust, and cigarette butts. These “defects” are not dangerous in the quantities they’re allowed, the FDA says, but still: what was that about ignorance and bliss?

Here’s a taste of what you can expect to find on the table. Bon appétit!

1. Canned mushrooms can include more than 20 maggots “of any size” and 75 mites, per 100 grams. Same goes for 15 grams of dried mushrooms. No more than 10% of your mushrooms can be “decomposed.”

2. For every 100 grams of ground cinnamon, it’s OK to include 400 or more insect fragments (legs, heads, wings, thoraxes, etc.), and 22 or more rodent hairs—a substance the FDA charmingly refers to as “rodent filth.”

3. Brussels sprouts can include 30 or more tiny insects, called aphids, per every 100 grams of veggie.

4. Up to 60 percent of frozen berries can be moldy, with an average of 4 or more larvae, or 10 or more whole insects, per 500 grams. To give you an idea of what that means for you: most pie recipes call for about 550 grams (5 cups) of berries.

5. The FDA says it’s OK if 15 percent of a can of cranberry sauce is moldy.

6. Apple butter is allowed to be 12 percent moldy. For every 100 grams of apple butter, it’s OK to have four or more rodent hairs and an average of 5 or more “whole or equivalent” insects. The average serving size of apple butter is about 30 grams, so no worries: you’re only ingesting a little more than 1 rodent hair and 1.6 insects per serving!

7. The turkey meat in turkey burgers, turkey dogs, turkey patties and nuggets has been “mechanically separated” from the bone. That’s code for: an entire turkey, bones and all, has been forced through a sieve under high pressure, oozing—to quote the FDA—a “paste-like and batter-like poultry product” on the other side. That “paste-like” poultry product contains a high percentage of “ground, crushed and pulverized bones,” evident in high levels of calcium, which is cool with the FDA.

8. Meat of all sorts—ground beef, chicken nuggets, taco filling, etc.—must include at least 35 percent actual meat. The other 65 percent doesn’t have to be meat, and can be made up of any mixture of edible fillers and chemicals, including cornstarch, water, soy, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, food colorings and artificial flavoring.

9. Tomato paste, pizza sauce or other sauces can include 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams. Alternatively, you can have 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots, OR two or more maggots, but not all of the above.

10. Cocoa beans can be 4 percent moldy or insect infested, but only 6 percent moldy and insect infested. More than 10 milligrams of “mammalian excreta” is permitted per pound of cocoa beans.

11. In 100 grams of corn meal—that’s roughly the amount required by your average corn bread recipe—the FDA says it’s OK to have two or more “whole insects,” 100 or more insect fragments, and either 4 rodent hairs or 2 or more chunks of rodent poop. Yum!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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