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What Happens When a Fly Lands on Your Food?

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"Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup?"
"Transmitting bacteria, sir."

This gross response doesn't make a great punchline (nor will it earn anybody a big tip), but it is the truth. But why is that fly just sitting—or swimming—there? And is the soup still safe to eat? If you really want to know, gird yourself and read on.

The common house fly (Musca domestica) has no venom, no stinger, and no fangs. It finds its food in a peaceful way—by rolling around in other animals' waste and garbage. With no teeth, the fly requires a liquid diet. This would be a problem, since a lot of food is solid, but the fly has a disgusting workaround: It spits and pukes on its meal. Compounds in its saliva and bile break down the food, making it as slurpable as a smoothie.

As the fly eats, it's usually also pooping—and if it's female, possibly laying eggs as well. Flies really are an absolute bonanza of disgustingness.

All of this would be gross, but ultimately harmless, if flies only ate soup. But they're opportunists. They eat rotting garbage and they eat animal feces, and in doing so they consume loads of pathogens.

"House flies are the movers of any disgusting pathogenic microorganism you can think of," Jeff Scott, an entomologist at Cornell University, told the Daily Mail. "Anything that comes out of an animal, such as bacteria and viruses, house flies can take from that waste and deposit on your sandwich."

Experts estimate that adult houseflies can transmit more than 100 different diseases and parasites, from Salmonella and tuberculosis to tapeworms.

Does this mean we should immediately throw out any food a fly has touched?

Nah.

Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist at the University of Sydney, says a quick visit from a pest is nothing to worry about.

"In most instances, spotting a fly on your food doesn't mean you need to throw it out," Web wrote in a blog post. "A single touchdown is unlikely to trigger a chain reaction leading to illness for the average healthy person."

Just the same, you should probably intervene before Ms. Buzz-Buzz does her business on your burger.

"The more time passes," Webb notes, "the greater the chance of pathogens left behind by the flies growing and multiplying on our food. That's when health risks increase."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Is the Difference Between Generic and Name Brand Ibuprofen?
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What is the difference between generic ibuprofen vs. name brands?

Yali Friedman:

I just published a paper that answers this question: Are Generic Drugs Less Safe than their Branded Equivalents?

Here’s the tl;dr version:

Generic drugs are versions of drugs made by companies other than the company which originally developed the drug.

To gain FDA approval, a generic drug must:

  • Contain the same active ingredients as the innovator drug (inactive ingredients may vary)
  • Be identical in strength, dosage form, and route of administration
  • Have the same use indications
  • Be bioequivalent
  • Meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity, and quality
  • Be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA's good manufacturing practice regulations required for innovator products

I hope you found this answer useful. Feel free to reach out at www.thinkbiotech.com. For more on generic drugs, you can see our resources and whitepapers at Pharmaceutical strategic guidance and whitepapers

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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