How Much Rodent Filth Does the FDA Allow?
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we thought we’d do a little research into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on our favorite holiday foods. We wish we hadn’t.
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 this Thanksgiving. Bon appétit!
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.”
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.”
Brussels sprouts can include 30 or more tiny insects, called aphids, per every 100 grams of veggie.
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.
The FDA says it’s OK if 15 percent of a can of cranberry sauce is moldy.
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!
Spreading Your Wyngz
“The USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service allows the use of the term ‘wyngz’ to denote a product that is in ‘the shape of a wing or a bite-sized appetizer type product’ but that contains no wing meat but only under certain conditions. These conditions include the stipulation that the poultry used is white chicken (with or without skin) and that ‘a prominent, conspicuous, and legible descriptive name (e.g., ‘contains no wing meat’) is placed in close proximity to the descriptive name and linked to ‘wyngz’ by use of an asterisk.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!