Rodent hairs, mites, maggots and mould; these are some of the less-than-savoury elements the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) allows in your food. But don’t worry: a little dose of this won’t hurt you.
The CFIA has guidelines for the general cleanliness of food, which say your food is safe, until insects and filth reach certain levels. For example, manufacturers can’t allow more than 1/100 of a gram of rodent hair in chocolate.
In cheese, the CFIA states there can’t be more than five dead mites per square 2.5 centimetres and to a depth of 0.6 centimetres. Live mites are not tolerated.
Mushrooms can’t have more than 10 maggots in 100 grams of mushrooms.
Rice can’t have more than 25 insect fragments per 100 grams.
Not all of the allowed defects are organic. Cocoa powder can’t have more than five magnetic metal particles (that are less than two millimetres) in every 100 grams of powder.
It’s important to note the defect levels don’t represent an average of the insect filth in any of the products — it’s just an acceptable amount that isn’t hazardous to your health.
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“It always sounds unappetizing, but the CFIA uses a science-based approach to the level of tolerance,” Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University said.
“There is so no such thing as zero risks, there is always a risk. So they [CFIA] allow themselves to work with miniscule thresholds, just in case. And the organic material poses no danger to humans.”
And if the risks weren’t included, Charlebois said: “we would have a highly inefficient food distribution system, leading to more expensive food.”
The CFIA said on average, it receives 2,000 reports from consumers concerning food safety issues each year, including complaints of extraneous matter. The agency also conducts around 3,000 food safety investigations each year.
FDA also allows defects in food
The acceptable level of microorganisms allowed in food isn’t just a Canadian rule. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which governs food safety in the United States, also has a list of “natural or unavoidable defects,” in the Food Defect Action Level Booklet.
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For example, 10 fly eggs or two maggots are acceptable in a 500 gram can of tomatoes.
The FDA explains that it’s “economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”