There are probably trace amounts of animal poop, rat hairs and insect skin in some of your favorite foods — and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is OK with it.
The average 17oz jar of peanut butter is legally allowed to contain up to five rodent hairs and still meet the agency’s regulatory standards.
Every store-bought 3oz bag of popcorn can ship with one rat poop pellet, and a standard 1.5oz bar of chocolate is allowed up to 30 insect parts.
Insect fragments include legs, antenna and other parts of the bugs that can find their way mixed into the products. These ‘food defects’ end up in food during the harvesting of raw materials and the manufacturing process.
The FDA says that it is ‘economically impractical’ for manufacturers to grow and harvest these products without at least some minor contamination.
The agency’s Food Defects Levels Handbook notes the levels listed in its guidelines are maximums, but the actual amounts in foods are often lower.
These defects are so tiny they do not cause harm to consumers. Insects, while gross, do not typically lead to food-borne illnesses.
Whereas bacterial infections like sapovirus – most recently detected in oysters which were recalled by the FDA – can cause serve illness and death.
The list of foods with allowed defects includes fruit and vegetables – fresh, canned and frozen – spices, seafood and nuts. In total, there are 111 products listed.
In some cases, like canned corn, multiple full larvae are allowed as long as they do not reach a certain length, while for others, only slight bug or rodent contamination is allowed.
Coffee — a morning staple for most working Americans — can legally be packaged with up to 10 percent of the beans being moldy or infested with insects.
Cherry jam is allowed to have relatively high levels of mold, which is calculated by taking small samples of the spread and using a microscope.
If less than three of every 10 samples have mold, then the FDA allows the product to be sold.
Meanwhile, up to 6 percent of your potato chips can include rot, and some of your popcorn kernels are allowed to have been gnawed by a rat.
Coffee is one of the most popular products on the defect list.
Experts have long warned of mycotoxins – harmful chemicals created by mold – being found in commercial coffee products.
Coffee beans are harvested from damp tropical environments where mold thrives, and then doused in water during the manufacturing process.
If they are not adequately dried before packaging, they will be sent on a long journey across the world still wet – allowing mold to form on them.
As a result, coffee beans on the grocery store shelf can come with an unwanted extra ingredient.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that consuming too much mycotoxin can lead to poisoning.
Coffee is also allowed to contain bits of insects – with up to 10 percent of the product allowed to show signs of infestation or damage from the bugs.
Experts warn that coffee bean stocks are often infested with insects before they are ground up to be sold.
It can be near-impossible to filter all of the bugs out of the coffee, which is why the FDA allows for its prevalence in packaging.
Cherries, like many other berries will develop mold after time, especially if kept in a damp environment.
Jams are very moist and often stored in a dark environment when being manufactured, making them a popular hotspot for mold.
Another popular spread, peanut butter, can come packed full of insect and rodent products.
The FDA allows up to 30 insect fragments and one rodent hair to be detected in every 100 grams of peanut butter. A standard jar of peanut butter is often between 300 to 500 grams.
This means that a single jar of peanut butter can have around five rodent hairs and 150 insect fragments and still pass inspection.
The bugs get into the spread when peanuts are harvested to be manufactured into peanut butter – with the FDA saying they cannot reasonably be removed.
This also applies to peanuts, with the agency allowing for 20 whole insects for every 100-pound bag of the snack.
Rat filth can also be in movie theatre favorites like popcorn and chocolate bars.
Regulators allow for two rodent hairs and up to 20 gnawed kernels in each pound of pre-popped popcorn.
Up to one pellet of rat poop is allowed in each tested sample of popcorn kernels.
In chocolate, one rodent hair and up to 60 insect fragments are permitted in each 100grams.
The typical chocolate bar sold in the US is around 50g, meaning there could be up to 30 insect fragments hiding in your Hershey’s.