In many foreign countries, entomophagy – eating insects as food – is totally normal. Lots of restaurants in countries like Japan and Thailand serve up insect dishes as part of the regular menu. In the United States, for many people eating insects isn’t just unpreferable, it’s downright appalling. But insects are everywhere, and that includes inside the buildings that manufacture, package, and process many of the foods you eat on a regular basis.
There are so many bugs and other creatures, like mice, around that it’s nearly impossible to keep them off of every single bit of food. It’s so difficult, that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specified “Food Defect Action Levels,” which are levels of natural or unavoidable contamination in foods that aren’t hazardous to your health. The truth is, you’re technically eating insects without even knowing it.
How Do Bugs Get in Your Food?
Bugs can get into your food at any stage it goes through before it ends up on your table. Bugs could contaminate your food before it’s even harvested from the fields (you didn’t think they could prevent bugs from landing on growing crops, did you?). They might also contaminate your food as it’s being processed, packaged, or shipped.
Is It Safe?
According to the FDA, food that is at or below the Defect Action Levels is perfectly safe for humans. Those tiny, miniscule insects pieces, or the remnants or contamination of a very small amount of feces in a very large batch of food, isn’t going to hurt you. There have been studies, however, that these types of food contamination could affect the health of people who suffer from allergies and asthma. In general, however, if your food makes you sick, the bugs are not to blame.
What Bugs are You Eating?
Just about any type of insect could be in your food, and the FDA doesn’t really differentiate between types. You could be eating anything from crickets to flies, and in most cases you’ll be eating fragments of them. You may also be ingesting bug larvae – essentially bug eggs. Other types of contamination? Maggots, rodent hairs, and insect and animal feces. Can you feel your stomach turning yet? Every food is different, but here are some examples of the Action Levels and averages of contamination:
-Peanut Butter: 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams.
-Chocolate: 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams.
-Canned Fruit Juice: 5 or more fly eggs, or 1 or more maggots, per 250ml.
-Wheat Flour: 150 insect fragments per 100 grams.
Can You Avoid Eating Insects?
Unfortunately, there’s not really anything you can do to eliminate all insect fragments or contamination from the food you eat. Even if you eat food straight from your garden, it’s likely to already be contaminated by insect larvae or feces. Insect contamination is just unavoidable. You don’t have to embrace it and begin eating fried grasshoppers – just try not to think about it.
Prepared by Mario S from Franklin Pest Solutions.