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Bugs, Rodent Hairs Found in Imported Spices, FDA Says

Bugs, Rodent Hairs Found in Imported Spices, FDA Says


The Food and Drug Administration reports that 12 percent of imported spices have bugs, rodent hairs, and more

The FDA found that 12 percent of imported spices are contaminated with filth.

While milk, honey, and olive oil might all be susceptible to fraud, it turns out that imported spices are also usually contaminated with non-spice products. Namely: insect parts, rodent hairs, and whole insects.

A Food and Drug Administration study found that 12 percent of all imported spices are contaminated with non-spice products, while 7 percent were contaminated with salmonella.

Most commonly, according to the report, hot spices like paprika, or dried peppers, had the most filth. Black pepper, on the other hand, was found to be the cleanest spice. Meanwhile, spices imported from Mexico and India have been found to have the highest rate of contamination.

The FDA claims that this is a "wakeup call" to spice producers, noting that spice contamination often doesn't occur in the harvesting process, but rather in the storage and processing. Of course, the American Spice Trade Assoication says that food manufacturers often treat the spices imported before selling them to the mass market, meaning these findings right after the import process are not reflective of spices sold to consumers.

Nevertheless, FDA inspectors claim that while cooking and processing can treat salmonella contaminations, the cooking process will not solve contaminations of insects or rodents.


Scientists: Mouse Poop and Rat Hair in Your Food… Why That’s a Good Thing

You might be surprised what is allowed in food. The FDA lists 179 “defects” allowed in over 100 types of foods we eat. Many of them are stomach-turning.

The most common defect, with 71 mentions, is insects. This includes whole insects, body parts, larvae, and mites. 1 Mold ranked second, with 33 mentions of defect levels allowed. 2

Rodent hairs are the next most-frequent defect. There are 23 allowable levels depending on the food product.

“Mammalian excreta” is the FDA’s name for what the rest of us call animal poop. Yes, it is allowed in some foods. Spices are the food that most often contains animal droppings.

Common Foods Full of Nasties

Here are foods that often contain revolting “defects,” according to the FDA:

Chocolate. Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, cocoa beans and cocoa powder often have unwanted additions. Chocolate can contain up to 60 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 100 grams.

Peanut Butter. The allowable limit is up to 30 insect fragments and/or one rodent hair per 100 grams.

Canned and Dried Mushrooms. The FDA allows for up to an average of 20 maggots “of any size” or 75 mites per 100 grams of drained mushrooms, or the same amounts in 15 grams of dried mushrooms.

Bay Leaves. Up to 5% of packaged bay leaves can be moldy and/or insect-infested.

Paprika. Up to 20% of paprika can have mold. Up to 75 insect fragments and 11 rodent hairs are allowed in 25 grams of the spice. (It isn’t just paprika— about 12% of all imported spices are contaminated .)

Sesame Seeds. Mold is allowed in 5% of the seeds and animal poop up to 5 mg per pound.

The Good News…

Regular readers know I’m no fan of the FDA. But in this case, they are not at fault. The fact is, there are far worse things than bugs and rodent droppings that can contaminate food.

I’m talking about the stuff it takes to get rid of bugs and rodent droppings… Chemical insecticides and fungicides. Many of these are linked to cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems. 3

There are certain foods the FDA says rarely has bug or rodent issues. These are heavily processed foods. 4 Since they are grown by Big Agriculture using plenty of chemicals, few insects, rodents, or mold can live in them. 5

Processed foods are among the worst things you can put in your body. If rats and bugs won’t even eat the stuff, neither should you.

The fact is, you’re better off eating organic, chemical-free foods that have a few natural “defects” than Big Food’s processed poisons.

Realistically, it’s impossible to eliminate all bugs from food grown outdoors. Yes, there is an “ick factor.” But a few bug parts are much less harmful to your health than pesticides and other chemicals.

In Good Health,

Angela Salerno
Executive Director, INH Health Watch


Spice rack beware, your seasonings may contain bugs and bat hair


Creative commons photo curtsey flickr user Murtada al Mousawy

A whopping 12 percent of spices imported to the U.S. are contaminated with some type of filth, according to a new report by the FDA. The average for all other FDA-regulated imports is 7 percent.

Worldwide, 14 outbreaks of illness were attributed to dirty spices between 1978 and 2010, resulting in nearly 2,000 sick people and at least two deaths, according to the report. So “in light of new evidence calling into question the effectiveness of current control measures to reduce or prevent illness from consumption of spices,” the FDA took a look at what’s in the spices on U.S. store shelves.

The results aren’t appetizing.

Researchers found Salmonella, Staph and E.-Coli pathogens. They also found insects (live and dead whole and parts), excrement (animal, bird, and insect), hair (human, rodent, bat, cow, sheep, dog, cat and others), and an assortment of other random materials you don’t want to be eating, like bird feathers, stones, twigs, staples, wood slivers, plastic, and rubber bands.

Whole spices are more likely to be filthy than cracked or ground (15 percent and 11 percent, respectively). Filth was most often found in capsicum (which can be an ingredient in salsas and hot sauces), sesame seeds and seasoning mixes.

While most imported spices come from India (16.1 percent of all 2010 spice imports), Indonesia (14.6 percent), China (10.9 percent) and Canada (7.1 percent), the highest prevalence of Salmonella-contaminated imported spice shipments between 2007 and 2009 came from Mexico (14 percent), India (8.7 percent), Thailand and Vietnam, (5 percent each) and China (4 percent).


Rodent poop

Consider the defect "mammalian excreta" a rather polite way for the FDA to tell you there's rodent poop in your food. The icky defect comes up 15 times in the FDA's handbook.

Fennel seeds, ginger and mace (a spice that's similar to nutmeg) can all contain up to an average of 3 milligrams of mammal poop per pound. For sesame seeds, the limit is a smidge higher: up to an average of 5 mg per pound.

And because the world can be a cruel place, cocoa beans can contain up to 10 mg of poop per pound.

For other foods in the handbook, the listing gets more specific. Wheat, for example, can contain up to an average of 9 rodent poop pellets per kilogram (or about 4 pellets/pound). And popcorn, which the FDA also permits rodents to gnaw on a bit, can contain up to 1 poop pellet in a subsample. (The FDA handbook doesn't specify the size of subsamples.)

Mold is mentioned 33 times on its own in the FDA's handbook. (In some instances, a defect is listed as a combination of insects and mold, or insect damage and mold.) And although mold is sometimes only considered an aesthetic defect, meaning it "offensive to the senses," it can also pose a potential threat to health if there is too much of it, or certain types of it, in a food. That's because certain types of mold produce compounds called mycotoxins that can make a person sick. Foods where you might find this type of mold include allspice, ground red pepper, ground paprika, cocoa beans and green coffee beans. [Top 7 Germs in Food that Make You Sick]

Other mold mentions are aesthetic, including the low levels of mold allowed in tomato products such as canned tomatoes, tomato juice, sauce and ketchup.

In addition, the FDA allows up to an average of 5 percent of bay leaves in a sample by weight to be moldy. The same goes for pieces of cinnamon bark.

And canned and frozen peaches earn a special spot in our hearts thanks to their appearance in the handbook: The FDA permits up to 3 percent of the fruit to be "wormy or moldy."


Bugs, rodent hair and poop: How much is legally allowed in the food you eat every day?

Brace yourselves, America: Many of your favorite foods may contain bits and pieces of creatures that you probably didn't know were there.How about som.

Brace yourselves, America: Many of your favorite foods may contain bits and pieces of creatures that you probably didn't know were there.

How about some rodent dung in your coffee? Maggots in your pizza sauce? Mold in the jelly on your toast?

Oh, and so sorry, chocolate lovers. That dark, delicious bar you devoured might contain 30 or more insect parts and a sprinkling of rodent hair.

Called "food defects," these dismembered creatures and their excrement are the unfortunate byproduct of growing and harvesting food.

"It is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects," says the US Food and Drug Administration.

So while there's no way to get rid of all the creatures that might hitch a ride along the food processing chain, the FDA has established standards to keep food defects to a minimum.

Let's go through a typical day of meals to see what else you're not aware that you're eating.

Breakfast

The coffee beans you grind for breakfast are allowed by the FDA to have an average of 10 milligrams or more animal poop per pound. As much as 4% to 6% of beans by count are also allowed to be insect-infested or moldy.

As you sprinkle black pepper on your morning eggs, try not to think about the fact you may be eating more than 40 insect fragments with every teaspoon, along with a smidgen of rodent hair.

Did you have fruit for breakfast? Common fruit flies can catch a ride anywhere from field to harvest to grocery store, getting trapped by processors or freezing in refrigerated delivery trucks and ending up in your home.

Lunch

Let's say you packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone's lunch. Good choice!

Peanut butter is one of the most controlled foods in the FDA list an average of one or more rodent hairs and 30 (or so) insect fragments are allowed for every 100 grams, which is 3.5 ounces.

The typical serving size for peanut butter is 2 tablespoons (unless you slather). That means each 2 tablespoon-peanut butter sandwich would only have about eight insect fragments and a teensy tiny bit of rodent filth. ("Filth" is what the FDA calls these insect and rodent food defects.)

Unfortunately, jelly and jam are not as controlled. Apple butter can contain an average of four or more rodent hairs for every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) and about five whole insects. Oh, and that isn't counting the unknown numbers of teensy mites, aphids, and thrips.

Apple butter can also contain up to 12% mold, which is better than cherry jam, which can be 30% moldy, or black currant jam, which can be 75% moldy.

Snacks

Did you pack some of the kid-sized boxes of raisins for your child's mid-afternoon snack?

Golden raisins are allowed to contain 35 fruit fly eggs as well as 10 or more whole insects (or their equivalent heads and legs) for every 8 ounces. Kid-sized containers of raisins are an ounce each. That's more than 4 eggs and a whole insect in each box.

After work drink

Any Bloody Mary fans? The tomato juice in that 14 oz. Bloody Mary could contain up to four maggots and 20 or more fruit fly eggs.

And if you're having a fruity cocktail, just be aware that the canned citrus juices that many bars use can legally have five or more fruit fly eggs or other fly eggs per cup (250 ml). Or that cup of juice could contain one or more maggots. Apricot, peach and pear nectars are allowed to contain up to 12% moldy fruit.

Dinner

Oh, gosh, the possibilities are endless! Did you know there can be 450 insect parts and nine rodent hairs in every 16 oz. box of spaghetti?

Canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sauces like pizza sauce are a bit less contaminated than the tomato juice in your cocktail. The FDA only allows about two maggots in a 16 oz. can.

Adding mushrooms to your spaghetti sauce or pizza? For every 4 oz. can of mushrooms there can be an average of 20 or more maggots of any size.

The canned sweet corn we love is allowed to have two or more larvae of the corn ear worm, along with larvae fragments and the skins the worms discard as they grow.

For every ¼ cup of cornmeal, the FDA allows an average of one or more whole insects, two or more rodent hairs and 50 or more insect fragments, or one or more fragments of rodent dung.

Asparagus can contain 40 or more scary-looking but teensy thrips for every ¼ pound. If those aren't around, FDA inspectors look for beetle eggs, entire insects or heads and body parts.

Frozen or canned spinach is allowed to have an average of 50 aphids, thrips and mites. If those are missing, the FDA allows larvae of spinach worms or eight whole leaf miner bugs.

Don't forget the spices!

Dismembered insects can be found in many of our favorite spices as well. Crushed oregano, for example, can contain 300 or more insect bits and about two rodent hairs for every 10 grams. To put that in context, a family-size bottle of oregano is about 18 oz. or 510 grams.

Paprika can have up to 20% mold, about 75 insect parts and 11 rodent hairs for every 25 grams (just under an ounce). A typical spice jar holds about 2 to 3 oz.

Food safety process

By now you must be asking: Just how do they count those tiny insect heads and pieces of rodent dung?

"Food manufacturers have quality assurance employees who are constantly taking samples of their packaged, finished product to be sure they're not putting anything out that is against the rules," said food safety specialist Ben Chapman, a professor in agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

Sometimes they do it by hand, Chapman said. "They take 10 bags out of a week-long production and try to shake out what might be in here," he said. "Do we have particularly high insect parts or was it a particularly buggy time of year when the food was harvested? And they make sure they are below those FDA thresholds."

What happens if it was a very buggy week and lots of insects decided to sacrifice themselves? Can they get all those eggs, legs and larvae out?

"They really can't," Chapman said. But they can take the food and send it to a process called "rework."

"Say I've got a whole bunch of buggy fresh cranberries that I can't put in a bag and sell," Chapman explained. "I might send those to a cranberry canning operation where they can boil them and then skim those insect parts off the top and put them into a can."

That's gross. Will I ever eat any of these foods again?

"Look, this is all a very, very, very low-risk situation," Chapman said. "I look at it as a yuck factor versus a risk factor. Insect parts are gross, but they don't lead to foodborne illnesses."

Much more dangerous, Chapman points out, is the potential for stone, metal, plastic or glass parts to come along with harvested food as it enters the processing system. All foods are subjected to X-rays and metal detectors, Chapman said, because when those slip through, people can actually be hurt.

Also much more dangerous are foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, which can severely sicken and even kill.

"Cross-contamination from raw food, undercooking food, hand-washing and spreading germs from raw food, those are the things that contribute to the more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness we have every year in the US," Chapman said.

Well, put that way, I guess my disgust over that rodent poop in my coffee seems overblown.


Rodent hairs and bugs: The acceptable amount of grime allowed in your food in Canada

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Rodent hairs, mites, maggots and mould these are some of the less-than-savoury elements the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) allows in your food. But don’t worry: a little dose of this won’t hurt you.

The CFIA has guidelines for the general cleanliness of food, which say your food is safe, until insects and filth reach certain levels. For example, manufacturers can’t allow more than 1/100 of a gram of rodent hair in chocolate.

In cheese, the CFIA states there can’t be more than five dead mites per square 2.5 centimetres and to a depth of 0.6 centimetres. Live mites are not tolerated.

Mushrooms can’t have more than 10 maggots in 100 grams of mushrooms.

Rice can’t have more than 25 insect fragments per 100 grams.

Not all of the allowed defects are organic. Cocoa powder can’t have more than five magnetic metal particles (that are less than two millimetres) in every 100 grams of powder.

It’s important to note the defect levels don’t represent an average of the insect filth in any of the products — it’s just an acceptable amount that isn’t hazardous to your health.

WATCH: Bugs for dinner anyone?

“It always sounds unappetizing, but the CFIA uses a science-based approach to the level of tolerance,” Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University said.

And if the risks weren’t included, Charlebois said: “we would have a highly inefficient food distribution system, leading to more expensive food.”

The CFIA said on average, it receives 2,000 reports from consumers concerning food safety issues each year, including complaints of extraneous matter. The agency also conducts around 3,000 food safety investigations each year.

FDA also allows defects in food

The acceptable level of microorganisms allowed in food isn’t just a Canadian rule. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which governs food safety in the United States, also has a list of “natural or unavoidable defects,” in the Food Defect Action Level Booklet.

WATCH: Eating insects, from fringe fad to the future of food

For example, 10 fly eggs or two maggots are acceptable in a 500 gram can of tomatoes.

The FDA explains that it’s “economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”


Bugs, rodent hair, and poop: How much is legally allowed in the food you eat every day?

Brace yourselves, America: Many of your favorite foods may contain bits and pieces of creatures that you probably didn’t know were there – and it’s totally legal.

How about some rodent dung in your coffee? Maggots in your pizza sauce? Mold in the jelly on your toast?

Oh, and so sorry, chocolate lovers. That dark, delicious bar you devoured might contain 30 or more insect parts and a sprinkling of rodent hair.

Called “food defects,” these dismembered creatures and their excrement are the unfortunate byproducts of growing and harvesting food.

“It is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” the US Food and Drug Administration said.

So while there’s no way to get rid of all the creatures that might hitch a ride along the food processing chain, the FDA has established standards to keep food defects to a minimum.

Let’s go through a typical day of meals to see what else you’re not aware that you’re eating.

Breakfast

The coffee beans you grind for breakfast are allowed by the FDA to have an average of 10 milligrams or more animal poop per pound. As much as 4% to 6% of beans by count are also allowed to be insect-infested or moldy.

As you sprinkle black pepper on your morning eggs, try not to think about the fact you may be eating more than 40 insect fragments with every teaspoon, along with a smidgen of rodent hair.

Did you have fruit for breakfast? Common fruit flies can catch a ride anywhere from field to harvest to grocery store, getting trapped by processors or freezing in refrigerated delivery trucks and ending up in your home.

Lunch

Let’s say you packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone’s lunch. Good choice!

Peanut butter is one of the most controlled foods in the FDA list an average of one or more rodent hairs and 30 (or so) insect fragments are allowed for every 100 grams, which is 3.5 ounces.

The typical serving size for peanut butter is 2 tablespoons (unless you slather). That means each 2 tablespoon-peanut butter sandwich would only have about eight insect fragments and a tiny bit of rodent filth. (“Filth” is what the FDA calls these insect and rodent food defects.)

Unfortunately, jelly and jam are not as controlled. Apple butter can contain an average of four or more rodent hairs for every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) and about five whole insects. Oh, and that isn’t counting the unknown numbers of mites, aphids and thrips.

Apple butter can also contain up to 12% mold, which is better than cherry jam, which can be 30% moldy, or black currant jam, which can be 75% moldy.

Snacks

Did you pack some of the kid-sized boxes of raisins for your child’s mid-afternoon snack?

Golden raisins are allowed to contain 35 fruit fly eggs as well as 10 or more whole insects (or their equivalent heads and legs) for every 8 ounces. Kid-sized containers of raisins are an ounce each. That’s more than 4 eggs and a whole insect in each box.

After work drink

Any Bloody Mary fans? The tomato juice in that 14 oz. Bloody Mary could contain up to four maggots and 20 or more fruit fly eggs.

And if you’re having a fruity cocktail, just be aware that the canned citrus juices that many bars use can legally have five or more fruit fly eggs or other fly eggs per cup (250 ml). Or that cup of juice could contain one or more maggots. Apricot, peach and pear nectars are allowed to contain up to 12% moldy fruit.

Dinner

Oh, gosh, the possibilities are endless! Did you know there can be 450 insect parts and nine rodent hairs in every 16 oz. box of spaghetti?

Canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sauces like pizza sauce are a bit less contaminated than the tomato juice in your cocktail. The FDA only allows about two maggots in a 16 oz. can.

Adding mushrooms to your spaghetti sauce or pizza? For every 4 oz. can of mushrooms there can be an average of 20 or more maggots of any size.

The canned sweet corn we love is allowed to have two or more larvae of the corn ear worm, along with larvae fragments and the skins the worms discard as they grow.

For every ¼ cup of cornmeal, the FDA allows an average of one or more whole insects, two or more rodent hairs and 50 or more insect fragments, or one or more fragments of rodent dung.

Asparagus can contain 40 or more scary-looking but thrips for every ¼ pound. If those aren’t around, FDA inspectors look for beetle eggs, entire insects or heads and body parts.

Frozen or canned spinach is allowed to have an average of 50 aphids, thrips and mites. If those are missing, the FDA allows larvae of spinach worms or eight whole leaf miner bugs.

Don’t forget the spices!

Dismembered insects can be found in many of our favorite spices as well. Crushed oregano, for example, can contain 300 or more insect bits and about two rodent hairs for every 10 grams. To put that in context, a family-size bottle of oregano is about 18 oz. or 510 grams.

Paprika can have up to 20% mold, about 75 insect parts and 11 rodent hairs for every 25 grams (just under an ounce). A typical spice jar holds about 2 to 3 oz.

Food safety process

By now you must be asking: Just how do they count those tiny insect heads and pieces of rodent dung?

“Food manufacturers have quality assurance employees who are constantly taking samples of their packaged, finished product to be sure they’re not putting anything out that is against the rules,” said food safety specialist Ben Chapman, a professor in agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

Sometimes they do it by hand, Chapman said. “They take 10 bags out of a week-long production and try to shake out what might be in here,” he said. “Do we have particularly high insect parts or was it a particularly buggy time of year when the food was harvested? And they make sure they are below those FDA thresholds.”

What happens if it was a very buggy week and lots of insects decided to sacrifice themselves? Can they get all those eggs, legs and larvae out?

“They really can’t,” Chapman said. But they can take the food and send it to a process called “rework.”

“Say I’ve got a whole bunch of buggy fresh cranberries that I can’t put in a bag and sell,” Chapman explained. “I might send those to a cranberry canning operation where they can boil them and then skim those insect parts off the top and put them into a can.”

That’s gross. Will I ever eat any of these foods again?

“Look, this is all a very, very, very low-risk situation,” Chapman said. “I look at it as a yuck factor versus a risk factor. Insect parts are gross, but they don’t lead to foodborne illnesses.”

Much more dangerous, Chapman points out, is the potential for stone, metal, plastic or glass parts to come along with harvested food as it enters the processing system. All foods are subjected to X-rays and metal detectors, Chapman said, because when those slip through, people can actually be hurt.

Also much more dangerous are foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, which can severely sicken and even kill.

“Cross-contamination from raw food, undercooking food, hand-washing and spreading germs from raw food, those are the things that contribute to the more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness we have every year in the US,” Chapman said.


SUBSCRIBE NOW Daily News

TAMPA, Fla. – Brace yourselves, America: Many of your favorite foods may contain bits and pieces of creatures that you probably didn’t know were there – and it’s totally legal.

How about some rodent dung in your coffee? Maggots in your pizza sauce? Mold in the jelly on your toast?

Oh, and so sorry, chocolate lovers. That dark, delicious bar you devoured might contain 30 or more insect parts and a sprinkling of rodent hair.

Called “food defects,” these dismembered creatures and their excrement are the unfortunate byproduct of growing and harvesting food.

“It is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” the US Food and Drug Administration said.

So while there’s no way to get rid of all the creatures that might hitch a ride along the food processing chain, the FDA has established standards to keep food defects to a minimum.

Let’s go through a typical day of meals to see what else you’re not aware that you’re eating.

The coffee beans you grind for breakfast are allowed by the FDA to have an average of 10 milligrams or more animal poop per pound. As much as 4% to 6% of beans by count are also allowed to be insect-infested or moldy.

As you sprinkle black pepper on your morning eggs, try not to think about the fact you may be eating more than 40 insect fragments with every teaspoon, along with a smidgen of rodent hair.

Did you have fruit for breakfast? Common fruit flies can catch a ride anywhere from field to harvest to grocery store, getting trapped by processors or freezing in refrigerated delivery trucks and ending up in your home.

Let’s say you packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone’s lunch. Good choice!

Peanut butter is one of the most controlled foods in the FDA list an average of one or more rodent hairs and 30 (or so) insect fragments are allowed for every 100 grams, which is 3.5 ounces.

The typical serving size for peanut butter is 2 tablespoons (unless you slather). That means each 2 tablespoon-peanut butter sandwich would only have about eight insect fragments and a tiny bit of rodent filth. (“Filth” is what the FDA calls these insect and rodent food defects.)

Unfortunately, jelly and jam are not as controlled. Apple butter can contain an average of four or more rodent hairs for every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) and about five whole insects. Oh, and that isn’t counting the unknown numbers of mites, aphids and thrips.

Apple butter can also contain up to 12% mold, which is better than cherry jam, which can be 30% moldy, or black currant jam, which can be 75% moldy.

Did you pack some of the kid-sized boxes of raisins for your child’s mid-afternoon snack?

Golden raisins are allowed to contain 35 fruit fly eggs as well as 10 or more whole insects (or their equivalent heads and legs) for every 8 ounces. Kid-sized containers of raisins are an ounce each. That’s more than 4 eggs and a whole insect in each box.

After work drink

Any Bloody Mary fans? The tomato juice in that 14 oz. Bloody Mary could contain up to four maggots and 20 or more fruit fly eggs.

And if you’re having a fruity cocktail, just be aware that the canned citrus juices that many bars use can legally have five or more fruit fly eggs or other fly eggs per cup (250 ml). Or that cup of juice could contain one or more maggots. Apricot, peach and pear nectars are allowed to contain up to 12% moldy fruit.

Oh, gosh, the possibilities are endless! Did you know there can be 450 insect parts and nine rodent hairs in every 16 oz. box of spaghetti?

Canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sauces like pizza sauce are a bit less contaminated than the tomato juice in your cocktail. The FDA only allows about two maggots in a 16 oz. can.

Adding mushrooms to your spaghetti sauce or pizza? For every 4 oz. can of mushrooms there can be an average of 20 or more maggots of any size.

The canned sweet corn we love is allowed to have two or more larvae of the corn earworm, along with larvae fragments and the skins the worms discard as they grow.

For every ¼ cup of cornmeal, the FDA allows an average of one or more whole insects, two or more rodent hairs and 50 or more insect fragments, or one or more fragments of rodent dung.

Asparagus can contain 40 or more scary-looking but thrips for every ¼ pound. If those aren’t around, FDA inspectors look for beetle eggs, entire insects or heads and body parts.

Frozen or canned spinach is allowed to have an average of 50 aphids, thrips and mites. If those are missing, the FDA allows larvae of spinach worms or eight whole leaf miner bugs.

Don’t forget the spices!

Dismembered insects can be found in many of our favorite spices as well. Crushed oregano, for example, can contain 300 or more insect bits and about two rodent hairs for every 10 grams. To put that in context, a family-size bottle of oregano is about 18 oz. or 510 grams.

Paprika can have up to 20% mold, about 75 insect parts and 11 rodent hairs for every 25 grams (just under an ounce). A typical spice jar holds about 2 to 3 oz.

Food safety process

By now you must be asking: Just how do they count those tiny insect heads and pieces of rodent dung?

“Food manufacturers have quality assurance employees who are constantly taking samples of their packaged, finished product to be sure they’re not putting anything out that is against the rules,” said food safety specialist Ben Chapman, a professor in agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

Sometimes they do it by hand, Chapman said. “They take 10 bags out of a week-long production and try to shake out what might be in here,” he said. “Do we have particularly high insect parts or was it a particularly buggy time of year when the food was harvested? And they make sure they are below those FDA thresholds.”

What happens if it was a very buggy week and lots of insects decided to sacrifice themselves? Can they get all those eggs, legs and larvae out?

“They really can’t,” Chapman said. But they can take the food and send it to a process called “rework.”

“Say I’ve got a whole bunch of buggy fresh cranberries that I can’t put in a bag and sell,” Chapman explained. “I might send those to a cranberry canning operation where they can boil them and then skim those insect parts off the top and put them into a can.”

That’s gross. Will I ever eat any of these foods again?

“Look, this is all a very, very, very low-risk situation,” Chapman said. “I look at it as a yuck factor versus a risk factor. Insect parts are gross, but they don’t lead to foodborne illnesses.”

Much more dangerous, Chapman points out, is the potential for stone, metal, plastic or glass parts to come along with harvested food as it enters the processing system. All foods are subjected to X-rays and metal detectors, Chapman said, because when those slip through, people can actually be hurt.

Also much more dangerous are foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, which can severely sicken and even kill.

“Cross-contamination from raw food, undercooking food, hand-washing and spreading germs from raw food, those are the things that contribute to the more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness we have every year in the US,” Chapman said.

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How many bugs are allowed in your pasta? Reading the FDA's Food Defect Action Levels

By Francis Lam
Published January 27, 2011 11:01PM (UTC)

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The closest I ever got to being a lawyer was flirting with a married one once, so I'm not going to comment on the legal wisdom of Dennis Kucinich's suit against congressional cafeteria operators for leaving an unpitted olive in his sandwich three years ago. He bit the pit. The pit hurt him. (Bad, too!) But in light of this awful miscarriage of justice, I recall once learning that many foods are allowed to contain a certain amount of "foreign matter" from the processor.

So, curious about what other "filth" and "water insoluble inorganic matter" are legally tolerated, I consulted the Food and Drug Administration's stunningly poetic-sounding "Food Defect Action Levels" -- the level of screwiness you are allowed to have in your food before the FDA will take action. You never actually want to get some FDA action, but you might be surprised at how much gunk can be in your product before they will show up with some bad news.

Say you're a frozen broccoli processor. Can you guess how many aphids, thrips, and/or mites you can have in 100 grams of your frozen broccoli before FDA agents will get all sad at you? Fifty-nine. You can have 59 aphids, thrips and/or mites in every three-and-a-half ounces of your product and be in the clear. Sixty is a problem, but 59? Play on, player!

Some other lines that the FDA will not allow you to cross:

Ground paprika: Average mold count is more than 20 percent or average of more than 11 rodent hairs per 25 grams or average of more than 75 insect fragments per 25 grams. (There is a glossary in the handbook that helpfully details "insect fragments" -- to get the equivalent of a "whole insect," all you have to do is count the body portions that have heads.)

Red fish and ocean perch: Three percent of the filets exampled contain one or more copepods accompanied by pus pockets. (Back to the glossary: "Copepods -- Small free-swimming marine crustaceans, many of which are fish parasites. In some species the females enter the tissues of the host fish and may form pus pockets." Yum-O!)

Hops: Average of more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams (. ).

Macaroni and noodle products: Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams.

Mushrooms, canned and dried: Average of 20 or more maggots of any size or average of five maggots 2 millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid or 15 grams of dried mushrooms.

Paging Rep. Kucinich! Pitted olives: Average of 1.3 percent or more by count of olives with whole pits and/or pit fragments 2 millimeters or longer.

Popcorn: 20 or more gnawed grains per pound and rodent hair is found in 50 percent or more of the subsamples.

And on and on. If you really want to geek out/get nauseated, check out the handbook here.

Now, to be fair, you have to realize that this doesn't mean these foods aren't generally safe to eat, even if you might be sharing your popcorn with little furry friends. The handbook details the significance of all of the defects it lists and the vast majority of them are aesthetic. In fact, to make this list, these flaws had to first be determined to present no health hazard (except for the very occasional chipped tooth). And, of course, for large and small producer alike, it's impossible to harvest or make food that's totally free of naturally occurring defects.

Funny enough, the FDA itself seems to recognize these action levels are on the extreme end of grodiness. The handbook states in the introduction that these limits "do not represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products -- the averages are actually much lower. The levels represent limits at which the FDA will regard the food product 'adulterated,' and subject to enforcement action." So as long as you, Ms. Hops Packer, can come in comfortably under 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops, you should feel good about yourself.

Francis Lam

Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.


Spices Top List of Possibly Tainted Foods

Find out which foods are most likely to make you sick.

10 Percent of Imported Spices Contaminated: FDA

Oct. 31, 2013— -- intro: Spices are the latest kitchen standby to land on a list of possibly tainted foods.

Roughly 7 percent of imported spices tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were contaminated with salmonella, a potentially deadly bacterium. Twelve percent contained insect parts or rodent hairs, according to the FDA report.

"The bug parts aren't going to harm you, but no one wants to eat those," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "The salmonella can cause disease, but probably less than you might think, because we tend to cook the spices. We tend to not use very many of them."

Nevertheless, there have been at least 14 spice-related disease outbreaks worldwide in the past 30 years, sickening more than 1,900 people and killing at least two, according to the FDA report.

"You usually think it's the chicken, not the paprika," Besser said.

At least 9 million Americans suffer from a foodborne illness caused by a major pathogen each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there are ways to prevent getting sick from the foods you eat.

Read on to learn what you can do to protect you and your family from food poisoning's worst offenders.

quicklist: 1category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Eggsurl:text: The Problem: The FDA reports that more than 140,000 Americans are infected each year with the salmonella bacteria from eating eggs. Approximately 30 die. Often the shell is contaminated by animal waste or some other environmental source. Becker said that if the eggs aren't treated properly at the site where they are produced, the contamination is transferred to your kitchen.

Safety Tips: Becker advised consumers to avoid eating raw eggs and to cook all eggs thoroughly before eating. It's also important to wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling either the shells or liquid parts of an egg, as well as all surfaces the egg has touched.

quicklist: 2category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Veggiesurl:text: The Problem: Leafy green vegetables are the number one source of food related illness, according to CDC statistics, and sprouts are another major culprit. Vanessa Coffman, education manager for STOP Foodborne Illness, said vegetables are a major source of salmonella, E. coli and other bacterial infections because they are grown in fields, often directly in the soil, where they can be exposed to pollution, animal feces and countless other forms of contamination. Also, since many vegetables are eaten raw, pathogens may survive even after a thorough washing.

Safety Tips: Coffman said the best way to protect yourself from dirty veggies is to wash them thoroughly and cook them whenever possible.

"Keep meat and vegetables separate from one another and use a separate cutting board for each," she advised.media: 19420055

quicklist: 3category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Fruiturl:text: The Problem: Last year, more than half a million cantaloupes were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration. The agency said it was acting in "an abundance of caution" after it was discovered that some consumers had eaten fruit that had tested positive for salmonella.

Fruit of all kinds are generally high up on the agency's recall list. Becker said that part of the problem is that one farm may send out contaminated produce all across the country, so outbreaks become widespread very quickly. Consumers don't always wash fruit before eating and, although cooking would render it safer to eat, most people eat it raw.

Safety Tips: Coffman said that even a fruit with an outer rind, such as a cantaloupe or an orange, should be washed before slicing to avoid dragging pathogens across the entire length of the fruit. Even produce that comes with a "prewashed" sticker should be washed carefully anyway.

quicklist: 4category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Fishurl:text: The Problem: As healthy a food as fish is, it's frequently pulled off grocery shelves due to safety concerns. One common reason, said Coffman, is vibrio contamination, a pathogen related to the bacteria that cause cholera. Vibrio is found in higher concentrations when water gets warmer, so outbreaks are more common in the summer months.

Fish can also be recalled due to high mercury concentrations. Just last month, the Texas Department of State Health Services, warned against eating fish caught off the coast of the Lone Star State due to unusually high levels of mercury. If consumed on a regular basis, mercury can cause harm to the central nervous system.

Safety Tips: Pregnant women, children and people with compromised immune systems should limit their consumption of fish suspected of high mercury levels and all raw fish, including what's found in sushi. Coffman said that all fish and seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

quicklist: 5category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Meaturl:text: The Problem: In April of this year alone, nearly 500,000 pounds of adulterated meat was recalled by the United States Department of Agriculture. The meat in question was thought to be contaminated with the listeria bacteria, a pathogen that kills one in five people it infects.

E. coli, salmonella and parasites are also routine meat and poultry contaminants, according to the USDA's own Inspector General reports, as are antibiotic resistant drugs and pesticides.

Safety Tips: Becker stressed how important it is to refrigerate meat to 40 degrees or below until right before cooking it.

"That includes outdoor picnics and barbeques," he said. "Bring a cooler and keep it chilled until ready for use."

Coffman advised using separate cutting boards for meat and washing hands and surfaces with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling.

Proper cooking is also essential to kill as many bacteria as possible. According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, whole cuts of meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by theee minutes rest. Burgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees poultry and all leftovers to 165 degrees.

quicklist: 6category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sicktitle: Nuts and Seedsurl:text:The problem: This week, a Michigan company recalled its packaged sunflower seeds and all products containing the seeds that were distributed in nine states over a suspected listeria contamination. More commonly, the culprit in nuts and seeds is salmonella. If something goes amiss during the roasting process, the pathogen survives and infected nuts can find their way into grocery baskets.

Safety Tips: Whenever possible eat roasted versus raw nuts. The best way to protect yourself from accidentally consuming contaminated nuts, Becker advised, is to check for recall updates on the government's Food Safety website. You can also sign up for recall email alerts on the Stop Foodborne Illness website or Facebook page.

quicklist: 7category: 7 Foods Most Likely To Make You Sicktitle: Pet Foodurl:text:The Problem: Oh no! Not even Fido is safe. Dog food recalls for salmonella outbreaks are fairly common. Ditto for cat food. An animal that has eaten some bad food will usually experience diarrhea and dehydration. Most will live through it, though youngsters, seniors and pets that are already ill may not. Contamination also poses a high a risk to owners who may be sickened after handling tainted food.

Safety Tips: Since your furry friend can't speak up to describe his symptoms, be sure to stay up to date on all recalls. These are listed on the FDA website. If you find your pet's food on the recall list, stop using it immediately. Check with the company's website to learn about disposal methods and compensation.

quicklist: 8category: 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Sick This Summertitle: Summary of Best Food Safety Tips From the Expertsurl:text: Wash your hands and all surfaces thoroughly with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling produce or meat.

All meat, poultry and fish should be refrigerated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler until just before it is cooked. For outdoor picnics and barbeques, bring a cooler.

Store produce and meat separately. Store meat on the lowest possible shelf to avoid contamination.

Buy a meat thermometer and cook food to its appropriate internal temperature. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends cooking whole cuts of meat to 145 degrees followed by a three-minute rest time, 160 degrees for ground meat, and 165 degrees for all poultry, whether ground or whole.

Keep an eye out for all food recalls. Toss food that's been recalled to avoid the risk of getting sick.