Saturday, October 24, 2009

Defect Action Levels (The Maggots in Your Mushrooms)

It is economically impractical to produce food that is completely free of all naturally occurring defects. Non-hazardous defects that are unavoidable by good manufacturing practices are subject to tolerances, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists as “Defect Action Levels.” 

E. J. Levy had an interesting op-ed piece recently on this topic: 

You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.
In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.
Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).
Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams. . . .

E. J. Levy, The Maggots in Your Mushrooms, New York Times (Feb. 12, 2009).

For more fun and to amaze and gross out your friends:  FDA’s  Defect Levels Handbook: The Food Defect Action Levels — Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.

Bon app├ętit!

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