Tuesday, May 15, 2012

FDA Allows Cockroaches in Chocolate and Maggots in Tomato Sauce

If you’re a squeamish person, I’d wait a week before checking my blog. I’m dedicating this week to writing about bugs and our relationship with them.

The game show Fear Factor routinely challenges contestants to eat live insects, or drink blended bug concoctions. But the critters on Fear Factor wouldn’t be as scary if everyone knew we eat bugs on an everyday basis. The truth is that commercial farming has to produce so much food that it’s impossible to remove all contaminants. Instead, the FDA imposes safe limits on the concentration of these contaminants allowed in our food.

Now, by “safe” they mean, “what you don’t know (in this case) won’t hurt you.” And by “contaminants,” they mean bug pieces, eggs and animal waste.

I told you we were getting gross this week.

I first learned about insect contaminants when I purchased a bag of pistachios from Manzella’s Fruit Market. I left the bag in my pantry for a week until I noticed moths in my kitchen. No matter how many I swatted, they kept coming. I opened my pantry to see my pistachios crawling with larvae.

That was ten years ago. I haven’t eaten pistachios since.

But from that ordeal, I learned that not only are pantry pests common (I talked to about a dozen people with similar stories,) they cannot be avoided. Some bugs in my pistachios likely died during the roasting process, but prior to bagging, the nuts were in the open air and vulnerable to re-contamination.

Cocoa is similar. Cocoa is grown and processed in Africa, close to the crop. This means that all the yummy little cockroaches that feast on the beans can make it into the finished product as well. The FDA allows for 75 insect fragments per 50 grams of sampled cocoa powder.

For tomato puree or tomato sauce, the FDA allows either 20 fly eggs per 100 grams of sauce OR 10 fly eggs and one maggot per 100 grams. Given the choice, I’d take the extra eggs, wouldn’t you?

So now that I have you thoroughly grossed out, I’ll admit that I have no problem eating bugs. The only reason I don’t eat pistachios is because I’ve developed a stronger affinity to cashews. Most people know that insects are a dietary staple around the world. If someone offered me a bowl of fried crickets I’d give them a taste, so long as they were spiced up a bit. My only gripe is that I wish the information about bugs in food was more accessible so it wouldn’t provide such a shock. 

Often, the relationship between these critters and our food is a vital one. For instance, figs cannot ripen without the help of the fig wasp. Without these bugs nestled at the center of every fig, pollinating the fruits, we wouldn’t have Fig Newtons!

Further benefits of eating bugs are being explored. With the world population now at seven billion and climbing, sustainable food is a pressing issue. Professor Arnold van Huis from Wageningen University in the Netherlands said, “Producing [2 pounds] of meat from a cow requires [29 pounds] of vegetable matter as feed. Yet [2 pounds] of meat from a cricket, locust or beetle needs just [4 pounds] of fodder, and produces a fraction of the CO2 emissions.

So, what do you think? Are bugs the “green” meat of the future? Or are you going to stick by your Raid cans?

If you’re daring or just curious, visit the FDA website to see the safety standards of many commercial foods.


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  2. I've known about some reports of insects or insect eggs in our food ever since becoming a vegan over ten years ago. People who are serious about being vegan or vegetarian have to do some research before scarfing down seemingly animal-free foods. Ironically, what's worrisome now isn't really the insect protein ingestion; instead, it's the risk or fact that the insects carry parasites that can stealthily undermine consumer health. Perhaps the ingestion of parasites like protozoa or pinworm will not kill you on the spot, but imagine the gradual negative effect over the course of years. Do you all want countless, minute serpents using you like a house and dumpster. Some say as much as a third of human feces comes from insects. For starters, one needs to improve sanitation, learn some cooking skills (herbs/spices), and begin a secure garden. Thanks for your attention...

    1. I agree. Before going vegan, I did not know about all of the hidden animal ingredients. I stopped eating peanut butter once I learned about the insects/rat hair. This is why I do not, for the most part, trust the FDA and the USDA. Although, I recently had someone point out to me that, since peanut butter is not funding animal abuse in any way, it's okay (for the most part). She said that there is probably going to be insects/animal hair in most store-bought food. She also pointed out that since she has dogs who shed, she has probably ingested their hair at some point without meaning to. Just because she does that thought, that doesn't make her not vegan; it just happens.

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