I’m a big proponent of protein. Eggs for breakfast, grilled chicken for lunch, lightly seared filet of salmon for dinner—I can’t get enough. But even I have a limit, and that limit generally begins about the time I see exoskeletons, tentacles, pinchers, or stingers sticking out of my food.
I realize that in some parts of the world, bugs are considered a reliable source of protein. But the people who eat those bugs do so willingly. It’s a normal part of their diet. Here in the United States, we’re pretty squeamish about chomping into insects or stabbing our forks into larvae. And that’s why it might come as a shock to discover that, because of the FDA’s lax food-safety regulations, your food might very well be crawling with creepy, slimy, buzzing things of all sorts. In fact, it’s been estimated that the average person unintentionally eats a pound of insects every year. And I’m not talking about gummy worms here. I’m talking about real live (or formerly live) bugs.
We’ve identified a few of the more disgusting bugs infiltrating your food. Prepare to be grossed out.
At anywhere from 1/25 to 1/8 of an inch long, these tiny little winged parasites are legally allowed in apple butter, canned or frozen asparagus, frozen broccoli, and frozen Brussels sprouts.
Those same little green or black bugs that can destroy a bouquet of flowers can infiltrate your frozen veggies, particularly spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. And if you home-brew beer, you might consider growing your own hops: The FDA legally allows 2,500 aphids for every 10 grams of hops.
These tiny white bugs are common in wheat and other grains that have been stored for a while, but expect to eat a few with your frozen vegetables. And if you have indoor allergies, that could be a problem. Storage and grain mites can cause the same type of allergic reaction as the dust mites common in homes.
If you’ve ever eaten canned food, you’ve probably also eaten a maggot. These disgusting little critters abound in things like canned mushrooms, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and pizza sauces, as well as fresh or frozen Maraschino cherries. Mushrooms are by far the worst: 20 maggots are allowed for every 100 grams of drained mushrooms, compared with between 1 and 5 for every 500 grams of tomato products.
Buy a piece of fruit covered in fruit flies, and you can wash them off. Buy a can of citrus juice, and you’ll be swilling five fruit flies with every 8-ounce cup of juice. Grab an 8-ounce handful of raisins and you could be eating as many as 35 fruit-fly eggs.
Corn Ear Worms:
Corn is notoriously difficult to grow organically, because it’s prone to insect infestations. But in most cases, it’s easy to avoid eating the earworms that burrow into corncobs and eat the silk—just cut the kernels off the cob, and voilà! However, canned sweet corn will come with some extra crunch from all the larvae, skins, and skin fragments allowed by the FDA.
Love black-eyed peas? Buy them dried and cook them yourself, rather than buying them frozen or canned. A can of black-eyed peas, cowpeas, or field peas may contain an average of five or more cowpea curculio larvae, which will grow into dark brown, beetle-like weevils that infest all manner of peas and beans.
Fuzzy, ugly caterpillars are supposed to turn into beautiful butterflies for people to marvel at—not eat in a mouthful of frozen spinach. But along with the 50 or so aphids, mites, and thrips allowed in 100 grams of spinach, you may also find yourself munching on caterpillar larvae and larval fragments. Mmm . . . probably not what was giving Popeye all that