Our Food is Full of Crap. Also, Rodent Hair, Mildew, and Bugs.

In the wake of the peanut butter salmonella scare (caused by rats, roaches, and other awfulness inside the factory), an op-ed in today's New York Times examines the government's standards for acceptable levels of gross stuff in food. According to the writer, you likely ingest up to two pounds of "flies, maggots and mites" each year, without being aware. Snip:

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.

The Maggots in Your Mushrooms (E. J. Levy / New York Times)

Here's that happy-fun FDA publication: "The Food Defect Action Levels – Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans." Bon appetit!