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Insects and Rodent Hair in Your Food?

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Insects and Rodent Hair in Your Food?

As a child I was given over to brimming excitement whenever I had the opportunity to open a box of cereal that was clearly holding a foreign object inside. In this case the foreign object was most always a toy, sticker, or some shiny inedible object that was depicted in three colors on the front of the box. But sometimes, if I were really lucky, I would find an orphaned flake or cereal grain from another batch of cereal that clearly was not part of the homogeny that was the cereal I was holding.

In reality this was an indicator of the fact that many different cereals (of all shapes and sizes) were likely processed at the same plant and one errant O or flake got mixed in with the cereal monoculture. But for a six-year-old child, this held some near magical significance. In short, I kind of liked finding unexpected things in my food.

This past week Congressman Dennis Kucinich from Ohio filed suit against Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in Washington DC over something entirely unexpected in his food (a pesky olive pit found in a wrap he purchased there in 2008). Seems the congressman bit into the wrap (which was advertised as having pitted olives) and summarily sustained some pretty unpleasant damage to his teeth (or tooth). Needless to say, the Ohio representative did not derive the same amount of enjoyment from the unexpected surprise as I did as a child. But admittedly finding some lone cereal flakes in a box is a lot different than chomping down on an olive pit.

The fact is, while much has been made recently about the relative safety of our food supply, the food we purchase from cafes and supermarkets is just rife with all sorts of unadvertised stowaways. In virtually all foods that have been processed or packaged for human consumption there exists a level of “acceptable” foreign objects or “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

104 comments

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7:44PM PST on Mar 11, 2011

Too many foreign objects in food is unnaceptable. I was eating a frozen Mexican dinner and bit into a small rock. Yes, a real rock! I sent the rock to the company saying " Like everyone, I enjoy little surprises, but not in my food. Therefore I'm returning it to you." Needless to say they sent me coupons for free dinners, but I didn't use them. I wasn't going to risk a broken tooth or worse.

12:51AM PST on Feb 8, 2011

Found out about how there are insect legs at every chocolate bar sold out there when I was in junior high and I was really grossed out then. I began to just accept it now, just don't think too much about it. I occasionally see one unfortunate little insect whenever I look too closely at my broccoli (after I cut them into smaller pieces before eating them) haha.

12:14PM PST on Feb 3, 2011

I'm starting to wonder where to draw the line now: if I totally stop cleaning and reuse dirty dishes, will I be like the healthiest person in the world from upping my resistance & immunity? (this is where you say "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." I just don't know quite where that fine line is anymore.

10:11AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

When I was a teen I went to an agricultural high school, so this is no new news to me. Hey, it's been going on for years, and we're still alive.
Atleast all of the stuff is not harmful when ingested.
In some countries insects are considered a delicacy.

9:18AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

I try to eat as much non-processed and organic food as I can - however the thought of insects/rodent hair/mold in my food really grosses me out! This is actually funny considering I'm Indian and have eaten on the streets of Bombay...the worrying thing is, aside from the ick factor, the above things could be carrying disease, and I'm no germophobe, but I do like things clean...

2:37AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

een asbak jolie

10:44AM PST on Feb 2, 2011

Not as bad as all the artificial crap they add to food!

7:24PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

This is reality, unfortunately, and not much anyone can do. The positive here, is that it has always been going on and we're all still here to discuss it.~

4:42PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

...and roll the paper towel off BEFORE you wash your hands!

12:23PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

This is merely the nature of mechanical processing. The reason they have these allowances is because to eliminate all possibility of these "additions" is impossible or would render most processed foods unaffordable. Hmmm... maybe this would be a good thing.

The author makes an excellent point. People that would rebel and be repulsed about the possibility of a rodent hair etc have no compunction about consuming highly processed food-like substances (e.g. twinkies and the like). The fact that most us, apparently, consume many hairs and insect parts we're no worse for it tells us something about the dangers of them.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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