10 Gross Things the FDA Allows in Your Food

Not quite the kind of organic we had in mind...

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It’s the holidays, and it's natural—perhaps inevitable—that everyone’s thoughts should turn toward food. Some of us at the offices took it a step further and thought about what’s actually in our food. And to be honest, we kind of wish we hadn't.

See, against the advice of our peers, we perused a document the FDA appetizingly calls “The Defect Levels Handbook.”

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Of course, most of us already recognized on an academic level that it's impossible to wash all of the contaminants, natural or otherwise, out of every bit of food we harvest. But learning what the safety threshold levels are (the number of contaminants allowed before they're considered harmful) was eye-opening, to say the least.

Here are our favorites, if you want to call them that:

Looks kind of like this, but all crushed and pulverized.

1. Broccoli

Frozen broccoli is allowed an “average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams.” So if you have 59 aphids, you’re fine. 60 is where they draw the line.

2. Brussels Sprouts

Same as above, but the threshold is 30. Really makes you wonder who gets paid to decide how many aphids is too many, and why brussels sprouts deserve a stricter threshold than broccoli.

3. Mushrooms

Canned and dried mushrooms are considered fit for your consumption if they contain up to 20 maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid, or 15 grams of dried mushrooms. Any. Size. Think about it.

4. Pineapple

An average mold count of 20% or more is considered unsafe when it comes to canned pineapple. So if you open up a can and see that less than one-fifth of it is moldy and disgusting, you should still eat it.

How nice of them to specify that it's mammalian poop. That certainly narrows it down.

5. Ginger

Ginger is allowed to contain no more than an average of 3 milligrams of "mammalian excreta" per pound. So if you ever wondered how much poop is too much poop, here’s your answer.

6. Potato Chips

In addition to camera nerds and appliance geeks, this office is also full of snack product experts. That's why it was a little upsetting to find that an average of 5% of potato chips are allowed to contain rot.

7. Wheat Flour

The FDA's threshold for insect filth in flour is an “average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams.” For rodent filth, it’s an “average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams.” Going gluten-free never sounded so tempting.

8. Pitted Olives

What’s the worst thing to find upon biting into a pitted olive? A pit, of course. But it turns out that manufacturers can get away with up to a 1.3% error rate. Okay, it’s not as gross as some of the other stuff on this list, but come on! They’re called pitted olives. They literally had one job!

9. Fig Paste

This one’s oddly specific: Fig paste is unsafe if it “contains 13 or more insect heads per 100 grams of fig paste in each of 2 or more subsamples.” What about the rest of the body? Are your Fig Newtons okay if they have 13 or more headless insects instead?

10. Apple Butter

Sometimes, the wording in the Handbook is a little worrying. The FDA allows an “average of 5 or more whole or equivalent insects (not counting mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects) per 100 grams of apple butter.” There’s no explanation of why there’s a list of excepted insects, so it implies your apple butter may contain any number of them. Mmmm, protein!

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