No matter how unhealthy or disgusting it may seem, it’s pretty much inevitable that there’s some sort of ick-producing thing in the food we eat. It’s true even for food grown in your own backyard—produce from your garden often comes with a healthy dose of dirt and bugs.
But on an industrial scale? Well, the same holds true there: dirt, grime, bugs, mold, parasites—you name it. It’s pretty much impossible to grow food that is 100 percent free of any foreign matter. But that doesn’t get food producers off the hook—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does, in fact, regulate the amount of stuff that is allowed in certain foods.
But if your homegrown spinach can be covered in gross stuff, is it really all that shocking that commercially-grown spinach can, too? The FDA makes the important point that these levels are not, well, normal—they just represent the absolute highest amount of foreign matter allowed. The FDA assures us in the introduction to its defect guide, “The defect levels do not represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products—the averages are actually much lower.”
It’s not totally likely that most of the food you eat is crawling with bugs and covered in dirt and, as the FDA also points out, these concerns are mostly aesthetic, not health-related. So while it might seem absolutely disgusting that there are so many creepy-crawlies in the foods we eat, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds.
Read on for some of the least-appetizing things the FDA allows in our food system. (Just don’t read this list before lunch).
1. Mold in Cranberry Sauce
This Thanksgiving staple can contain an average 14 percent mold count in each can.
2. Bugs in Frozen Broccoli
Teeny-tiny pests like thrips, aphids and mites can wreak havoc in both backyard gardens and commercially-grown crops. Frozen broccoli is allowed to contain as many as 59 of these bugs per 100 grams of florets.
3. Rodent Hair in Flour
Find any more than one rodent hair per 50 grams of flour and you’re in trouble. And, yep, that means that it’s perfectly okay for a one-pound bag of flour to contain eight rodent hairs.
4. Maggots in Canned Mushrooms
Canned mushrooms can contain 19 maggots per 100 grams after they’ve been drained and will still fall within the FDA’s regulations.
5. Pits in Pitted Olives
Oh, that terrible feeling when you bite into an olive that’s supposed to be pitted and you find, well, a pit. The FDA allows a little more than one percent of pitted olives to contain whole pits or pit fragments.
6. Fly Eggs in Canned Citrus Juice
Nope, that isn't pulp—canned citrus can contain up to four fly eggs per 250 ml. This means that, for every gallon of canned citrus juice, there can be up to 15 fly eggs.
7. Sand and Grit in Raisins
Sand and whatever the FDA means by the term “grit” can be present in raisins at a rate of up to 40 mgs per 100 grams.
8. Parasitic Cysts in Blue Fin/Freshwater Herring
Phew! Not every single one of these fish can contain parasitic cysts—just 59 percent of the catch. What a relief!
Sufficiently grossed out? If you want a little more control over what gets left on your food, try growing your own. Here’s a list of easy vegetables and herbs you can start growing indoors.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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