Picnics are a prime time to get ants dancing in our pants – or flies breeding in our potato salad.

My fave egg photo/Ryn Gargulinski

One fine story involves a friend of my dad’s who bit into a hamburger only to find the squirming back end of a bumblebee.

Another features a friend who spent a weekend in an upstate New York trailer. She found out the trailer was infested with carpenter ants when the raisins in her granola cereal started swimming in the milk.

This, of course, was after she already ate half the bowl.

While knowing we are eating bug parts may gross us out, we most likely do it daily without even blinking an eye. And that’s just fine and dandy with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

After all, no one is perfect – so why should our food be?

Foodstuff is allowed to contain a number of bug parts, rodent hairs, maggots and other contaminants before they reach “Food Defect Action Levels,” or amounts that put them off the shelf and into the trash can.

Anyone who prefers broccoli over Brussels sprouts, with the argument that Brussels sprouts look like little brains, may change their minds when they find out the defect action levels of these two dandy greens.

My fave cupcake photo/Ryn Gargulinski

Frozen broccoli can contain up to 60 aphids, thrips or mites per 100 grams while frozen Brussels sprouts is only allowed up to 30 of the insect trio.

Canned or frozen asparagus falls in the middle, allowing up to 40 of the insects. But up to 10 percent of the spears or pieces can also be infested with up to six asparagus beetle eggs or sacs. How nice to give the buggers a free ride.

If that’s enough to make you swear off broccoli forever, you can always rebel by eating only snack foods.

Popcorn is allowed up to 20 “gnawed grains” per pound and, to go with those gnawed grains, a certain amount of rodent hair. The rodent hair should not be present in more than half the samples.

A luscious piece of chocolate is only allowed up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams, or about the size of an average Snickers bar.

OK, a Snickers bar is not solid chocolate, so the insect leg and torso chunk count better be a bit less. But it would be hard to tell if maggots nestled in that nutty nougat.

Maggots are allowed, to a degree, in canned mushrooms. Canned mushrooms can contain up to 20 maggots of any size or up to five larger maggots – 2 millimeters or longer – per 100 grams of foodstuff. Up to 75 mites per 100 grams is also allowed.

And you thought mushrooms were disgusting just because they grew in manure.

Broken bread/Ryn Gargulinski

Speaking of manure, up to 5 milligrams of “mammalian excreta” is allowed in sesame seeds, along with a portion of “insect filth” and a dapple of highly elusive “foreign matter.”

On a more appetizing note, what we don’t know can’t hurt us, and the litany shall stop here. You can always read more on your own, however, by checking out more defect action levels on the FDA website.

And you can at least get to sleep at night by knowing most contaminant levels allowed in foodstuff are still lower than the number of ants found swarming in the bowl of raisin cereal.



Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who loves mushrooms – at least until she read the Food Action Defect Levels. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com.

What do you think?

Will you ever eat mushrooms again?

Did you ever eat mushrooms before?

Should we have even stricter food regulations?

Have you ever found rat hair in your nacho dip?

What’s the grossest contaminant you’ve found in your food?