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You Are Eating Bugs Without Even Knowing It

Bugs may be the next darling food trend–look for bug protein powder coming soon to your granola bars and shakes–but that's quite a different matter from the insects being quietly slipped into your food.

Health food and junk food, snacks and drinks, none of them are safe from a certain amount of bug matter that the FDA has deemed ok for our consumption. What kind of bugs are we talking about here? Just take a look:

Dactylopius Coccus

Red candies. You know you shouldn't eat them, but you do. Skittles, Swedish fish, whatever your candy vice is, you might want to know what you're popping along with your sweet pick-me-up. Carmine, a vibrant red food colorant, is made from the crushed abdomens of female, beetle-like African insects. It also shows up in some colored juices. So yes, there's actually bug juice in your bug juice. Not only is this a little stomach turning, it poses an ethical problem for vegetarians and vegans who might not be aware that they're ingesting animal products.

Kerria Lacca

Sorry again, candy lovers. It doesn't matter if they call it confectioners' glaze or shellac, that crunchy candy coating is made from secretions from the back end of the female lac bug. Shellec has a lot of uses – it might sound familiar as something you would use on furniture or your porch – including several that show up in our snacks. The candy coating that makes sweets look shiny is the most common, but it also shows up as a brush-on colorant. Check labels when you're shopping for sweets, especially around big candy seasons; most Easter and several Halloween candies use shellac.


Brace yourselves. Just because you avoid the processed candies doesn't mean your food is free of bugs. The FDA legally allows mushrooms to contain 19 maggots – those rice-shaped larvae that feast on rotting food – in every 3.5-ounce can. As if that wasn't enough of a reason to switch to the fresh kind, you'll also avoid chemicals that can line cans and seep into your food.


We're not done talking about those maggot-laden mushrooms. Turns out they're also allowed to have up to 74 mites per 3.5-ounce can in addition to the maggots.


Those bugs you're always trying to keep out of home and kitchen? They're already in your kitchen, in your food. We're sorry to say it, but they're in your chocolate. Up to eight bug parts are legally allowed in each chocolate bar. In fact, it takes 60 insect pieces or more per 100 grams of chocolate for this deceptive sweet to be rejected by the FDA.

Fruit Flies

You may be winning the battle against the fruit flies lingering around your fruit bowl, but it turns out you're losing the war. Though we can swat and swipe away the fruit flies in our homes, we're sipping on them in our citrus juice. Each 8-ounce cup legally packs up to five fruit flies and an 8-ounce handful of raisins can pack a shudder-worthy 35 fruit fly eggs. These little pests also love tomato sauce. Up to 15 eggs per 100 grams of sauce and you'll still be allowed to slurp it up on your spaghetti.


These tiny, winged insects love asparagus almost as much as you do, or did. As long as frozen or canned versions don't pack in more than 40 thrips per 100 grams, you're allowed to tote it home for dinner. They're also fans of apple butter, frozen broccoli, frozen Brussels sprouts, canned spinach, and hops.


It doesn't matter if they turn into something beautiful, caterpillars aren't something you want in your food. You wouldn't know that by looking at the list of legal limits on bugs in frozen and canned spinach, though. As long as they're small, larvae and larval fragments are ignored and in good company with plenty of mites, thrips, and aphids.


Before you reach for that beer to help you cope with all this news, there's one more thing you should know: hops contain an average of more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams in addition to the thrips. Yes, 10 grams. At the very least, rethink that IPA. If you're dabbling in home-brewing, consider growing your own hops so you can clean them yourself.


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Eat This, Not That!
Inspired by The New York Times best-selling book series, Eat This, Not That! is a brand that's comprised of an award-winning team of journalists and board-certified experts, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers, and dietitians who work together to bring you accurate, timely, informative, and actionable content on food, nutrition, dieting, weight loss, health, wellness, and more. Read more about Eat This