Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Pass The Maggots, Please!

So you've never eaten an insect. Think again! Most people consume insects or insect parts every day.

It is nearly impossible to produce food plants under field conditions without having insects feeding on the plants. Consequently, a U.S. government agency, the Food and Drug Administration, has established guidelines regarding insect contamination of food. These guidelines, called The Food Defect Action Levels, are set on the basis of “no hazard to health.”

The alternative to establishing natural defect levels in some food would result in increased usage of insecticides to control insects. Such action would mean trading insect parts for insecticide residues. This is a trade most people are unwilling to make. After all, insects and insect parts are edible.

So what does the federal government consider the defect action levels to be? Frozen broccoli can have up to 60 aphids, thrips and/or mites per 100-gram sample. In the same size sample of Brussels sprouts, only 30 aphids and/or thrips are allowed. In 100 grams of asparagus, 40 thrips are allowed. The government isn't sure about thrips; you can have 60 of the little creatures in broccoli, 40 in asparagus, but only 30 in Brussels sprouts!

Drosophila, also known as fruit flies, are common pests of ripening fruit. So canned citrus fruit juices can have five fly eggs or one fly maggot per 250 milliliters. In tomato paste, pizza and other sauces, you are allowed 30 fly eggs or 2 fly maggots in 100 grams. You could have a combination of eggs and maggots, but only half as many — 15 eggs and one maggot.

Peanut butter can have 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams. In other words, 30 insect eyes, legs, antennae, or stingers. The government also allows up to 25 insect fragments in 25 grams of cornmeal. But the regulations say that one whole insect (or equivalent) is allowed in 50 grams of cornmeal. So if you have enough insect pieces and parts to make a whole insect in 50 grams of cornmeal, you're above the action level. But if the pieces and parts don't add up to an entire insect, you're below the action level even though you have 49 parts.

In dates, the government is specific about the type of insect that can be tolerated — the insects must be dead. Five or more dead insects per 100 grams to be specific. What if we find some live insects in dates? Are we to worry about that?

All of this is enough to make teetotalers go cry in their beer. But think twice, those hops used in the beer brewing process can have 2,500 aphids per 10 grams. That is an awful lot of legs, wings, antennae, and eyes. Maybe that is where the term bug juice originated!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann