"Foreign bodies" in American food

Dear mods - appreciate that you may deem this thread to be crossing the “no politics” line and, if so, my apologies and I fully understand if you decide to lock or delete it.

However, on a different (not food related) forum that I lurk on, there was this quote:

"In the US, producers adhere to a Defect Levels Handbook which sets out the maximum number of foreign bodies like maggots, insect fragments and mould that can be in food products before they are put on the market.

For example, US producers are allowed to include up to 30 insect fragments in a 100-gram jar of peanut butter; as well as 11 rodent hairs in a 25-gram container of paprika; or 3 milligrams of mammalian excreta (typically rat or mouse excrement) per each pound of ginger.

In the EU there are no allowable limits for foreign bodies in food products. MPs have told Business Insider they are worried that a UK-US trade deal designed by Brexiteers could open the floodgates to contaminated food."

Just wondering, before I re-quote it elsewhere, if anyone can confirm that the story is accurate from the US perspective. I’m aware that, in the EU, “foreign bodies”, such as rat shit, are not permitted under our food regulations.

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I believe the fundamental premise is true, the US does have acceptable limits of some creepy sounding things in both harvested and processed food. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions drawn from those.

I’m curious about the EU standards. Naturally grown and harvested foods have foreign bodies . . . they just do. You can’t grow . . . . lets say lettuce without some bugs being around when you harvest, even after washing. Insects exist . . . so to grow and harvest apples and turn them into apple jam, you are going to get a bug or two (or a worm or two that no one knew was in the apple).

So does the EU just pretend that those things don’t exist?

The “post harvest” foreign bodies (e.g. rat hair) is always creepy and gross, but I believe that the FDA takes into account if that rat hair came from the fields versus from the processing plant . . . .


No. The EU says they shouldnt be there and enforcement authorities in the 28 countries should take action if they are found.

In reality, the enforcement authorities (as any prosecuting authority) determines whether a conviction is realistic and in the public interest. A quick Google tends to indicate that a defence of “due diligence” is likely to be successful - which probably accounts for why there are so few prosecutions (at least in the UK)

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When I was younger I once had a short-term gig classifying a collection of documents that were used for legal discovery in a lawsuit here in the States. That’s when my eyes were opened to the minor but allowable levels of, um, extras such as insect parts in certain processed foods.

Came as quite a shock to the impressionable, youthful me.

ETA: I should clarify that the “extras” were not at issue in any way. They just happened to be incidentally described in the documents.

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Here’s a genuine (if slightly tongue-in-cheek) question.

Knowing that Americans litigate much more often over such matters than we Europeans, has any vegetarian/vegan sued over animal products being in, say, the paprika I mentioned in the OP?

Personally, I can’t see how this topic could devolve into a political pissin’ match. IMO, this is an historical subject–not political.

Oh, I could so easily turn it into one, Jimmy. Just read the last sentence of the quote I gave in the OP. Hence my caution.


I’m not sure if this crosses the “no politics” rule and this isn’t my board to monitor so it’s not my call. I do think it crosses the “ewwwwwwwww” line though.


I have literally no idea how the food system in the EU works (or in the UK as a stand alone entity). Does the EU have the equivalent of the FDA here in the USA? Or how would the enforcement authorities become aware of any foreign bodies in food items?

Staying out of the politics, and not intended to be patronizing but everyone may not have the same understanding of the USA’s FDA - my general understanding of the FDA here in the USA (provided it is funded, fully staffed, etc, etc) is that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would periodically test food items (not only produced here in the USA but also imported food) for quality standards - including those we are discussing here (foreign bodies/etc). That would be done under a microscope since those insect parts/etc could be fragments of wings, etc, not readily visible in the food item. In theory then, if an item was tested to be above those prescribed limits (they are limits, not expected bits and pieces to be found) it could/would be recalled from stores and/or not allowed into the USA for distribution. So in essence, any bits and pieces above what is defined would proactively be considered - not doing due diligence.

Not that I know of, or not that has made huge news. The biggest news item I can recall would be with McDonalds. Several years ago now, they were saying their fries are vegetarian, but it came to light that they used beef tallow in the initial frying (before shipping the frozen fries to stores). It caused a bit of a scandal (though it was a while ago, and the vegetarian push didn’t have quite the momentum it does now) and McD’s had to reformulate their fry recipe.

I’ll go on record as saying the old fries were better . . . . . though definitely not vegetarian.

Not to mention, Halal and Kosher “mass produced” foods…

I am almost positive mcd uses beef in their fries still. In 1990 they changed from lard to vegetable oil. According to this article they still use beef as I thought:


Here is a news article about Mimolette cheese being imported into the US. It was banned (okay technically turned away at the border) because it had too many “foreign bodies”, aka mites . . . but of course it is supposed to . . . .its an interesting intersection of foreign body FDA rules and when we are and aren’t upset about it . . . . I love mimolette cheese.

(interesting, I can’t copy and paste a paragraph from the website, I get a “this is copyright protected material” error from the page . . . .never seen that before)

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I try not to think about this too much, because the “eewww” factor is probably, in most cases, an overreaction. Maybe the extra bits are no more than organic crunch and roughage. Besides, there’s icky stuff in our food that we don’t normally see. I cook just for myself, and have an ever-expanding kitchen repertoire, so my pantry backlog is chronic. Last year, without noticing until it was too late, I shook powdered Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix from its plastic container over a baked potato. It was crawling with little bugs whose eggs must have been in the mix when it was packed. I had used the container of this prominent brand now and then ever since it was bought, at least 5 years earlier, at Costco. So I was eating a lot more eggs than the ones I buy from the poultry farm!

Those numbers seem high, I thought it was more like x parts per million - 30 insect fragments per 10 kg or 100 kg, not 0.1 kg!

I see it as an acknowledgement that a certain amount of contamination might happen despite best efforts.

I don’t know if they do test food products proactively, that would take a lot of time and people. Food processing plants are licensed and inspected by the states and can also be inspected by the FDA but I would think they’d only take samples if there had been a complaint or if there was reason to believe there was contamination. Or they might just recommend a recall.

I actually had an FDA inspection a couple of years ago when I was making chocolate in a restaurant kitchen. I believe we did have mice at the time but they managed to elude the inspector. He didn’t take any samples for the office and wasn’t allowed to take any treats for himself. Of course, my tiny operation is a far cry from Ghirardelli or Hershey’s …

There isnt a continent wide enforcement body. Each country will have its own arrangements. For example, the Food Standards Agency is the UK body which, as I understand things, would be generally simialr to the FDA.

Agencies would become aware of foreign bodies in the food usually by way of public complaint. Would it be different in America?

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Do you guys think it was a good idea going to a TB?

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“You guys?”

I was referring to you fellow hungry onion members :slight_smile:

Fair enough. A lot of Indians go to Taco Bell because it’s one of the only fast food meals they can eat. And, if they had never eaten beef, they might not know what it tastes like. It doesn’t look like a burger which is easier to identify as beef. Would I sue Taco Bell? Nope.