The Maggots in Your Mushrooms ~ BevnTempe

THE Georgia peanut company at the center of one of our nation’s worst food-contamination scares has officially reached a revolting new low: a recent inspection by the Food and Drug Administration discovered that the salmonella-tainted plant was also home to mold and roaches.

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.

Peanut butter — that culinary cause célèbre — may contain approximately 145 bug parts for an 18-ounce jar; or five or more rodent hairs for that same jar; or more than 125 milligrams of grit.

In case you’re curious: you’re probably ingesting one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites each year without knowing it, a quantity of insects that clearly does not cut the mustard, even as insects may well be in the mustard.

The F.D.A. considers the significance of these defects to be “aesthetic” or “offensive to the senses,” which is to say, merely icky as opposed to the “mouth/tooth injury” one risks with, for example, insufficiently pitted prunes. This policy is justified on economic grounds, stating that it is “impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”

The most recent edition of the booklet (it has been revised and edited six times since first being issued in May 1995) states that “the defect levels do not represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products — the averages are actually much lower.” Instead, it says, “The levels represent limits at which F.D.A. will regard the food product ‘adulterated’ and subject to enforcement action.”

Bugs in our food may not be so bad — many people in the world practice entomophagy — but these harmless hazards are a reminder of the less harmless risks we run with casual regulation of our food supply. For good reason, the F.D.A. is focused on peanut butter, which the agency is considering reclassifying as high risk, like seafood, and subjecting it to special safety regulations. But the unsettling reality is that despite food’s cheery packaging and nutritional labeling, we don’t really know what we’re putting into our mouths.

Soup merits little mention among the products listed in the F.D.A.’s booklet. But, given the acceptable levels for contaminants in other foods, one imagines that the disgruntled diner’s cri de coeur — “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” — would be, to the F.D.A., no cause for complaint.

E. J. Levy is a professor of creative writing at the University of Missouri



Filed under BevnTempe

63 responses to “The Maggots in Your Mushrooms ~ BevnTempe

  1. Bev, having spent many a year in the food and beverage industry you learn to take this type of thing in it’s stride, in the long run you just have to look at it as an extra protein source!


  2. dnd

    Thanks Bev, you’ve ruined my breakfast 😉

  3. dnd

    Geeze Brian, it looks like Obama’s about to smooch Ginsberg.

  4. dnd

    Sauerkraut with a peanut butter/mushroom sauce washed down with a big glass of tomato juice.

  5. dnd

    Here’s an entertaining op-ed in today’s WSJ:

    “Anyone who thought the recession and financial market turmoil would moderate President Obama’s policy ambitions discovered the opposite last night. Far from suggesting limits on Congress or federal spending, the new President made clear in his first State of the Union address that he believes in government power as the answer to our current difficulties, and he intends to use it.”

    What’s so funny isn’t the “harrumph” sore loser ideological tone of the article. It was that, technically, last night’s speech to a joint session of conference was not a State of the Union address (as specified in Article II, I think…). Their editorial board apparently is so mired in their dogma they can’t proof read their copy.

  6. dnd

    Um, “conference” should be “Congress.”

  7. Sounds yummy dnd, wish I was there!

  8. So this morning I got a formal looking letter from Charlie Rangel, my member of congress. Inside was a copy of his invitation to the inauguration and a copy of Obama official photograph. On the bottom is says “Souvenir invitation courtesy of Congress Charles Rangel, not paid for at govt. expense” LOL

  9. hmmmmmmmmmm, cricket lollipops!

  10. Wow, Bev, I have no idea what I might want to eat in the future after reading this post. Where’s Upton Sinclair when we need him — LOL!!

    OK, dnd, the first pitch is at 3:05 est in Tucson between the Rockies and the D-Backs. Are you on your way to AZ? Maybe we can have a hot dog with sauerkraut, mushrooms, and a beer at the game.

    Obama blinks in showdown with US military over at my blog and opinion page. It seems like all presidents have to “feed the monster” or it will turn on them. Ike said it best when he warned of the military-industrial complex. Now, add media to the complex too for its complicity.

  11. BevnTempe

    Love the fact that C.M. didn’t mention B.J.’s fashionable tie in his explanation. Guess that was included in the “spectacular stagecraft”

  12. I wonder how many people were saying….those same words when they watch the entrance…..Tweety just said what everyone else was thinking…lol

  13. Michelle looks great in that link you posted UB.

  14. ewwwwwwwwwwwwww Tom Delay on tweety!

  15. Yep, I loved everything she was wearing….her look is simply style and grace……it’s wonderful.

  16. Reid: Congressional Budget Increased To Pay GOP Staffers

    “This would be funny if it wasn’t from someone associated with the the so-called party of fiscal responsibility,” wrote the aide. “This is the height of hypocrisy……..”

  17. Good picture of the queen, actually a very good picture:

  18. awe that is an awesome photo……look like a pure expression….not staged.

    BTW I really like the bug art at the top of the thread….great choice.

  19. thanks, but I can’t take credit for it, that was the pic that appeared with the original article in The Times.

  20. Ed Schultz is doing an outstanding job tonight on 1600

  21. dnd

    Ya gotta love Norah O’Donnell.

    John Feehery claims the stimulus bill is full of port. O’Donnell asks him to name one piece of pork. Can’t do it. Says: “It’s a huge bunch of stuff and we don’t even know what’s in there.” Huh? If you don’t know what’s in there, how does he know it’s a huge bunch of stuff? 😉

    On gratuitous political griping:

  22. dnd

    On this Ash Wednesday, I’ve decided what to give up for Lent. During the Lenten season, I’m not going to listen any pundit or pol who, in polite conversation, feels the need to shout, interrupt whoever is talking, and feign righteous indignation in order to press their position. That sort of behavior indicates that they don’t really have a good argument, and thus must resort to such antics.

    I’m also not going to listen to anyone who refers to the “Democrat” party. “Republican” serves as both a noun and an adjective. However “Democrat” is a noun and “Democratic” is an adjective. If someone is too dumb to know the difference, not worth listening to. If someone is using it as a term of snarky, sarcastic, immature derision, they apparently didn’t get the memo: we’re sick of that crap.

  23. Nannymm

    Bev, I managed to avoid that article all week. But since you posted it, I finally read it. All I can say is, Gee! Thanks! You’ve really helped my diet.

  24. Nannymm

    dnd, I thought the idea was to sacrifice during Lent. You know, give up something you really enjoy or do something that is difficult. Thus, you should be doing the exact opposite of what you plan to do. 😀

  25. Limbaugh Defends Jindal, Warns Conservatives They Are ‘Making A Real Mistake If They Go After’ Him

  26. Nannymm

    Limbaugh to the rescue! He’ll whip those traitorous conservatives into shape! LMAO!!!

  27. dnd

    From everything I’ve heard, Jindal is a bright, smart guy. So why the poor performance? The John McCain effect: selling out your principles and style, to the radical left, for the big prize.

    Limbaugh’s endorsement certainly backs this theory.

  28. dnd

    Oops, “radical left” should be the “radical right.”

  29. dnd

    The conspiracy theory is that Jindal was set up by members of his own party who want to see him fail. Let’s be real. How could an up-and-comer possibly give a decent rebuttal to one of the most powerful speakers of his generation? Not gonna happen.
    They coulda god someone safe (and looney) like Michael Steele or Mike Pence who would be immune from embarrassment and ridicule, as they have no shame. But no, they picked the kid. There must be some in the Republican party want to sink Jindal.

  30. Sounds like something hatched up in Alaska dnd!

  31. LOL, KO just ripped Hannity a new one!

  32. in case you have nothing to do March 23/24….

    look who they are honoring….

  33. Hey thanks for the heads up on that UB, I just ordered my tickets! Now I just need to find a date.

  34. I am sure they planned that gala prior to Bobby’s debut rebuttal. Before he became the joke of the day….

  35. You mean there was a time when he wasn’t a joke?

  36. Nannymm

    LOL, KO just ripped Hannity a new one! posted by Brian

    Hannity IS one.

  37. I thought The Speaker was outstanding tonight with Rachel, I really don’t get why so many of the Clinton crowd hates her.

  38. Limbaugh To Convene A ‘Female Summit’ To Figure Out Why Women Hate Him

  39. chefsheila

    Good morning Ya’ll.

    BEV, I didn’t have time yesteday, so let me just say before this thread is closed…..


  40. chefsheila

    I thought Speaker Pelosi asnwered the one cry this last year for all of us.

    I KNEW there was some reason why the house and senate weren’t speaking out and sat with their hand under their asses.

    lThey were threatened with jail or worse if they disclosed. I knew it!!!

  41. chefsheila

    Limbaugh To Convene A ‘Female Summit’ To Figure Out Why Women Hate Him

    The Last Line:

    Face it, Rush. We’re just not that into you.

  42. dnd

    Why do women hate Limbaugh?

    Man Smart, Women Smarter:

  43. chefsheila

    LOL Good Morning dnd

  44. chefsheila

    Bwuthing my teef…..going to go work out! Thee ya…

  45. dog's eye view

    venturing over, coffee in hand. RE Bev’s post: interesting. I am wondering if one gets less, ahem, contaminants, if one buys fresh and local (farmer’s markets, with their produce and regionally made salsas and jams). Some of the wildlife/extra protein might set in during the processing stage.

    Suspect most US foodstuffs are pretty safe. Who knows what the FDA would find in one’s lovingly crafted homemade apple pie? This house is filled with beagle hair. Also, panty moths continue to arrive via foodstuffs. I suspect my beloved Trader Joe’s on that.

    RE the peanut crisis: the producer avoided or subverted many safeguards already in place. Appears we probably do need more inspectors to help protect our food supply. (More guv’mint; take that naysayers! People understand not wanting to provide tainted foods or toxic toys to their kids.) Hey, it’s jobs and in the public service.

    Anyhoo, exposure to some germs and contamination is good for us and helps to build a stronger immune system.

    Hug your government inspector today!

  46. dog's eye view

    Hey Brian. You feeling a bit better? The dogs filing a class action over the constant presence of Vicks vapor rub?

  47. LOL, yeah I’m feeling better today, thanks.

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