Eeew of the day

The other day I was reading, as you do, the Wikipedia entry for "entomophagy". Which means, of course, the eating of insects, on purpose or... otherwise.

The "unintentional entomophagy" section of that article is all about that schoolyard gross-out favourite: The allowable levels of insects, insect eggs and "insect filth" in common foodstuffs.

As the US FDA says, "it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects." Like bits of bugs. So certain levels of bug-bits are OK with the FDA.

They have determined, for instance, that no health hazard is presented by fewer than five fruit-or-other-fly eggs per 250 millilitres of canned citrus juice. And they also prohibit, I'm happy to say, any maggots at all in that juice.

You're allowed to have an average of no more than 60 insect fragments per hundred grams of chocolate; no more than 30 per hundred grams of peanut butter.

And on it goes, until the entry for hops - the bitter green flowers used in beer brewing.

The Wikipedia article said that ten grams of hops can have two thousand five hundred aphids, and still be considered acceptable.

This struck me as a clear example of subtle Wikipedia vandalism, so I had a little look around. But I'll be darned if the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Food Defect Action Levels list did not say exactly that.

The hop aphid, Phorodon humuli, is fortunately a tiny little creature that probably weighs about the same as a similarly sized ant - about 0.1 milligrams.

(It may mean something that the question of what an ant weighs has previously commanded my attention.)

So even if there are 2500 such aphids in ten grams of hops, that's still only a quarter of a gram of aphids. Hops outweigh aphids by a factor of forty to one.

But this blogger's estimate of 528 aphids being permitted to go into a single sixteen-fluid-ounce (0.47-litre, 0.83-Imperial-pint) can of not-especially-hoppy beer, however, remains valid.

It's not really that bad, of course. As the Action Levels document also says, typical contamination levels are generally far lower than the maximum permitted level.

I think the "2500 aphids" figure might actually be pretty much picked out of the air, since I think it's likely that even if you just stirred buckets of aphids into your beer-wort instead of buckets of hops, the resultant beverage would probably still present no danger to human health whatsoever.

(And, given some previous evidence, a certain segment of the market would probably demand more aphids.)

But this sort of sensible disclaimer has no place in the schoolyard gross-out arms race, or indeed in similarly themed conversations during the big game's ad breaks. 2500 aphids per ten grams of hops are, indeed, allowed.

Drink up!

15 Responses to “Eeew of the day”

  1. dazzawul Says:

    Red Tick Beer brewery
    "needs more dog"

    [This episode, in case you're wondering. - Dan]

  2. Changes Says:

    On the subject of food with HOLY GOD WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT GET IT THE HELL AWAY FROM ME inside, you might wish to Google for "casu marzu", a... special... type of cheese. Which, I'm sad to say, comes from my nation (although not from my region, thank God), and which is actually illegal to eat. Wanna know why? Go on, Google it. I dare you.

  3. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    @Changes: They can jump SIX INCHES?!

    They won't be found in my juice, though, which pleases and relieves me greatly.

  4. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    So why can thyme have 11.56 times as much insect as cinnamon? That's what I don't get.

  5. ozzieaardvark Says:

    A really hoppy IPA must have a metric (bad word)-load of aphids in it. No extra charge for the meat boy...

    I guess insects that can eat cinnamon are much more dangerous than those that graze on thyme or something? :-)

  6. Changes Says:

    @Fuzzy: isn't it nice? They start jumping into your mouth before you've even given the first bite to the cheese!

    Seriously, whoever thought "I have a great idea, let's make cheese like that" should be shot. And anyone who actually eats it deserves a Darwin Award Nominee plaque, since the little buggers don't just harmlessly pass through you - they actively attack the inner walls of your intestine, doing their best to cause perforations and internal bleeding.

  7. Daniel Rutter Says:

    A lot of the world's most loathsome foods came into existence because people were starving, and all there was to eat was cheese alive with bugs or rotten shark or the fish jelly made by that mad bastard on the island or whatever.

    Then along came "gourmets", who want to push the envelope of culinary decadence by eating this stuff deliberately.

    Generally, the peasants who make it cheerfully sell it to the gourmets, then head off to McDonald's. So everybody's happy.

  8. Popup Says:

    In fact, if it wasn't for a certain level of contamination of produce vegetarians would have a hard time to get their vitamin B12. It's only produced by certain bacteria that live either in the digestive system of most animals or in normal soil, and consequently on most produce. Wash it too well, or it it too fresh, and you might get pernicious anemia.

    Sorry, you probably didn't need to know that.

  9. Stark Says:

    OK, That cheese has got to take the wormy cake. Blech. I've eaten some disgusting things (survival training) but good gods people! You gotts draw the line somewhere!

    Although, it should be noted that most bugs are pretty much harmless to eat. What I find disturbing is the larger creatures that end up in your food stuffs. Like rat parts. In your ketchup. There is a tomato cannery in the town where I work - big business here - and there are indeed guidelines for acceptable amounts of rat parts in your tomato products. The acceptable levels are not "zero" as one might hope. Having been out to the cannery and seen the rats running around - they love the leftovers from processing - it's really not surprising that some of them end up in the grinder... but... yech!

  10. Microfrost Says:

    I'm going to have to re-think reading this blog on my lunch break.

  11. Changes Says:

    Dan: I didn't know Hakarl. You never stop learning...

    I get it that if you're about to die of hunger suddenly little jumping worms in cheese, or fish that tastes like ammonia, don't look so bad anymore. What completely escapes me is why people eat it today.

    What pushes someone who can afford a decent restaurant to instead eat a food that makes them "usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it due to the high ammonia content"? I mean, for Pete's sake, when someone's telling you to pinch your nose before the first bite lest you throw up your very soul it's a simple matter of rational thought to consider that you're not dying of hunger, and that there are plenty of places that'll sell you all sorts of food which are actually pleasant to eat (and probably cost less).

    Human stupidity and masochism will never cease to amaze me.

  12. Steve Says:

    Thanks Dan...
    Your post led me from Entomophagy to Casu marzu to myiasis

    Now I'll have nightmares until the end of time. Thanks a lot.

  13. bmorey Says:

    I'm a home-brewer from way back and I've never seen aphids in hops. Most commercial beer these days is brewed from hop concentrate or essence -- not a lot of aphids in there.

  14. Speedy Says:

    So why can thyme have 11.56 times as much insect as cinnamon?

    I would suspect because of two things - one, cinnamon is a bark and probably harbours less insects than the leaves of thyme and two, being a more pungent spice (like clove and nutmeg) I also suspect it doesn't have as many insects hanging about anyway ;-)

  15. Changes Says:

    Steve: there are times when the few significant pictures Google shows above the results of a normal search are a good idea, and there are times when they are not.
    Everybody, do NOT google "myiasis".

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