Maggots in Tomatoes, Insects in Berries, and More Gross Things the Food and Drug Administration Allows in Your Food

The FDA Defect Level Handbook details a long list of ‘unavoidable defects’ that are allowed in American foodstuffs

Maggots and mold and insect excretion, oh my!

When you buy a shopping cart full of fresh fruits and vegetables from your local grocery store, you usually just rinse or lightly wash the produce before meal preparation, right? After all, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) inspections should see to it that our food is blight- and blemish-free. When the folks over at the science blog LiveScience found the FDA’s Defect Level Handbook, a list of “natural and unavoidable defects” in food produced and sold in the United States, it became clear that our fantasies of perfect foodstuffs may be unrealistic.

According to the FDA, “we have set these action levels because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.” These defects include maggots, insect parts, whole insects, and mold.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the produce defect levels allowed, listed on the FDA’s website handy guide.

Rodent or Insect Filth in AllSpice: “An average of 30 or more insect fragments, or one rodent hair per 10 grams is allowed.”

Mammal Excretion on Bay Leaves: “An average of 1 milligram or more mammalian excreta per pound after processing.”

Whole Insects in Lingonberries or Cranberries:Average of 10 or more whole insects or equivalent per 500 grams.”

Maggots in Canned Mushrooms: “Average of over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid or 15 grams of dried mushrooms.”

Fly Eggs and Maggots in Canned Tomatoes: “Five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 500 grams.”

Rodent Pellets in Popcorn: “One or more rodent excreta pellets are found in one or more subsamples, and one or more rodent hairs are found in two or more other subsamples.”


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