The truly honest answer to that most American of questions (“What’s for dinner?”), turns out to be deeply distressing. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a handbook for the sole purpose of listing the minimum amount of mouse poop, insect fragments, human hairs, and corrosive rot allowed in your food. It’s a lot more than “none” and enough to make family dinner seem faintly ominous.
There are several ways to analyze the data within the handbook, but we figured the most devastating breakdown would involve ruining your dinner tonight and every night. So here are a few common meals that you’ve doubtless enjoyed with your family—with a calculation of how much mouse hair and how many maggots you unwittingly fed your children. Bon appetit!
Macaroni And Cheese And Maggots
Perhaps you’ve fixed your family a delicious meal of macaroni and cheese, tomato soup, and a cup of orange juice. Seems innocent enough. But the FDA allows up to 225 insect fragments per 225 grams of macaroni (yes, that’s one piece of bug per gram) and 4.5 rodent hairs per 225 grams. Per 100 grams, FDA allows either 10 fly eggs, five fly eggs and one maggot, or two maggots in most tomato products. And citrus juices are allowed five fly eggs or one maggot per 250 milliliters.
Let’s assume your family powered through one box of macaroni (454 grams), five cups of soup (1,130 grams), and five cups of orange juice (1250 mL). Within FDA guidelines, they could have eaten: 450 insect fragments; 25 maggots (or 125 fly eggs); nine rodent hairs.
Grilled Salmon and Parasitic Cysts
So you’ll skip the pasta. Understandable. Let’s try grilled salmon instead, seasoned with some lemon pepper, with a side of spicy broccoli sauteed in cayenne pepper and paprika. The FDA allows 50 parasitic cysts per 100 pounds of fish in the salmon family, 475 insect fragments and 2 rodent hairs for every 50 grams of pepper, 50 insect fragments and 6 rodent hairs per 25 grams of cayenne pepper, and 75 insect fragments and 11 rodent hairs per 25 grams of paprika. Did we forget the broccoli? Expect 60 aphids, thrips, or mites per 100 grams.
A family of five would consume about three pounds of salmon, 300 grams of broccoli, and 14 grams (one tablespoon) of each spice. Within FDA guidelines, your family could have eaten: 190 insect fragments; 8 rodent hairs; 180 aphids, thrips, or mites; 1.5 parasitic cysts.
Chocolate Cake With Hair on Top
We need not belabor the point—dinner is gross. So let’s skip straight to dessert. How about a decadent chocolate cake, fruit salad for the health-obsessed, and hot cocoa to go around? Well, the FDA will let 60 insect fragments and one rodent hair into every 100 grams of chocolate in your cake (and cocoa powder in your beverage), along with 75 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 50 grams of flour. The fruit salad is, if anything, worse. Berries are allowed to come with four larvae or 10 whole insects per 500 grams and 12 pounds of canned peaches are permitted one larvae as long as it doesn’t exceed five millimeters in length. Most other fruits on the list are simply allowed to have bugs in them, as long as they don’t cause the fruit to rot.
This requires a bit of guesswork, but a conservative estimate is that it takes 56 grams of unsweetened chocolate and 250 grams of flour to make a serviceable cake. Each member of a five-person family will also want a tablespoon (14 grams) of cocoa for their warm drink, and if everyone gets a cup of berries that’s about 500 grams, too. We’ll exclude the other fruits because we can’t know their levels of infestation, along with the peaches because nobody is going to eat 12 pounds of peaches. Especially after a few slices of bug-infested chocolate cake.
Within FDA guidelines, your family could have eaten: 400 insect fragments; 5 rodent hairs; 4 larvae (or 10 whole insects); and if you’re especially unlucky, one 4.99 mm larvae.