Bugs: Out of Sight, But Still In Your Mouth

1x1.trans Bugs: Out of Sight, But Still In Your MouthHave you ever scrounged around for something to eat, found some old stale crackers or a nearly empty, ancient box of cereal, only to discover that tiny, slender insects with fringed wings were already scampering to and fro around the same snack choice?

The mere thought of having almost eaten one of those unsanitary and revolting bugs was disgusting, right? Unfortunately, we unwittingly eat them all the time.

Writing for Scientific American, Kyle Hill, a freelance science writer and research fellow, has compiled some nifty information on the bugs that regularly find their way into our food.

Hill points out that individual consumers probably ingest about one to two pounds of flies, maggots and other bugs each year without even knowing it.

Hill explains what any farmer already knows, that bugs crawl on our food to eat and procreate, so that even after crops are harvested and packaged, a significant amount of bugs remain on our food, which are actually regulated by the FDA, who impose certain limits.

Following FDA guidelines for spinach, the action limit is 50 or more aphids, thrips and/or mites per 100 grams, or spinach that is 0.01% bug by weight. “By the time you eat 1,000 kilograms of spinach you have eaten a quarter pounder’s worth of aphid.”

The FDA’s Food Defect Handbook (fun coffee table book) lists the source of each defect and significance. Food commodities are listed alphabetically. Each listing indicates the analytical methodology (Defect Method) used, as well as the parameters for the defect (Defect Action Level).

Broccoli, canned tomatoes, and hops regularly contain “insect fragments” — heads, thoraxes, and legs—and even whole insects. Fig paste can contain up to 13 insect heads in 100 grams; canned fruit juices can include a maggot for every 250 milliliters; 10 grams of hops can be the home for 2,500 aphids.

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Hill comments that many bugs and bug parts will be filtered out during brewing, but the FDA’s limit on the hops that go into the tank is 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops.

“That’s right, 5% of the total weight of the hops making your summer ale can be bug. A quarter pounder’s worth of aphid butt goes into the brewer for every 2.5 kilograms of hops.”

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And Hill calculates that if the “insect parts” the FDA limits is about the same weight as a tiny aphid, then once you eat around 100 kilograms of your favorite chocolate you’ve eaten a full kilogram of bug.

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As io9 points out, eating insects may be repugnant to those in the US, but it’s a common practice in most of the world.

The UN released a paper regarding the nutritional and environmental benefits of insects.

The report was authored by Arnold van Huis, among others, a Professor of Tropical Entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and he’s a noted entomophagy (the consumption of insects as food) advocate, who has done a TED Talk.

Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper