The FDA Defect Levels Handbook might be the most effective diet book in existence. It spells out just how much mold, rot, parasites, bugs, and other contamination can legally be found in the things you eat. What’s that? You’d rather not have any of those things in your food? If that is the case, you might want to avoid reading the rest of this article. It will open your eyes to the surprising things that contribute to your breakfast cereal making its distinctive crunch.
The FDA lists 179 different defects that may show up in the food you eat every day. These defects include such things as dirt, mold, sticks, insect parts, maggots, and cigarette butts. How do these things get there? According to the FDA, most of these are part of the normal process of growing and processing food, and they present no health hazard as long as they remain below the limits imposed within the handbook.
The most common defect involves insects. Seventy-one insect-related defects are identified in the handbook. Fruit flies have their own special mention, noting that pizza sauce, for example, may contain up to 30 fruit fly eggs, while canned tomatoes may have no more than 10 such eggs.
Mold deserves special mention, as well. Thirty-three references to mold contamination show up in the handbook. Most of the time, mold only disqualifies an item from consumption if it is “offensive to the senses.” The quantity of mold contamination is an issue, however, for foods such as red pepper, allspice, cocoa beans, and green coffee beans.
Sad and shocking as it may seem, “rodent filth” and “mammalian excreta” together warrant 38 mentions in the handbook.
The FDA has also established limits on how many unpitted olives and dates can appear in packages labeled as “pitted.” Up to 1.3% of pitted olives can contain pits and still be classified as “pitted,” whereas 2% of dates can remain unpitted and still bear the description “pitted.”
Following are some notable examples of what the FDA considers “normal” for your next trip to the dinner table.
Broccoli/Bug Breakdown: Tiny bugs such as aphids, thrips, or mites can hitch a ride from the broccoli field into that bag that is sitting in your freezer. The FDA’s limit is an average of 60 or fewer creatures per 100 grams. That comes out to 204 pests in your 12-ounce bag of frozen broccoli.
Bug Beer Buddies: There may not be more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops.
Extra Crunchy 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.
Spicy Cigarette Butts: Your favorite spice can contain traces of foreign matter, which the FDA casually defines as “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.
Raising Flies in Your Raisins: In a 15-ounce box of golden raisins, the government will permit up to 65 fly eggs.
Rat Hair Rigatoni: You may find up to nine rodent hairs in your 16-ounce box of pasta.
Caterpillar/Spinach Casserole: The FDA has a surprisingly-complicated formula for spinach caterpillars. In a bulk amount of 24 pounds of frozen spinach, there may not be more than two larvae that are at least 3 millimeters long, nor may there be enough caterpillars—when lined up head to abdomen—whose total length equals 12 millimeters.
Snap-Crackle-Mouse Poop: Your breakfast cereal is permitted to have up to 13 “fragments” of rodent excreta in a 24-ounce container.
Fish a-la Parasite: The FDA permits up to 3 percent of rockfish filets to contain copepods, parasitic crustaceans that cause pus pockets in the flesh of the animals.
Maggots in Your Tomatoes: The government permits three maggots in your 28-ounce can of tomatoes.
Macaroni And Cheese And Maggots: The FDA allows up to 225 insect fragments per 225 grams of macaroni (yes, that’s one piece of bug per gram) and 4.5 rodent hairs per 225 grams. Per 100 grams, FDA allows either 10 fly eggs, five fly eggs and one maggot, or two maggots in most tomato products.
Some Eggs With Your Orange Juice: Citrus juices are allowed five fly eggs or one maggot per 250 milliliters.
Chocolate Cake With Hair on Top: The FDA allows 60 insect fragments and one rodent hair into every 100 grams of chocolate in your cake (and cocoa powder in your beverage), along with 75 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 50 grams of flour.
Fruit Salad With a Little Extra: Berries are allowed to come with four larvae or 10 whole insects per 500 grams. Twelve pounds of canned peaches are permitted one larva, as long as it doesn’t exceed five millimeters in length. Most other fruits on the list are simply allowed to have bugs in them, as long as they don’t cause the fruit to rot.
Read about the cheese that intentionally includes maggots.
Read about the bread made from ground crickets.