Saturday, February 14, 2009

Maggots in Our Mushrooms in the NYT

E.J. Levy, a professor teaching creative writing at the University of Missouri, has an op-ed in today's New York Times about what else might be in our food. He notes:

You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.

In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.

Canned mushrooms may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites” before provoking action by the F.D.A.

The sauerkraut on your hot dog may average up to 50 thrips. And when washing down those tiny, slender, winged bugs with a sip of beer, you might consider that just 10 grams of hops could have as many as 2,500 plant lice. Yum.

Giving new meaning to the idea of spicing up one’s food, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.

That's quite a mouthful.


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