12 Common Bugs You've Probably Eaten Without Even Knowing It

Do bugs count as “clean eating”? You might want to consider this question if you care about your diet, because many seemingly healthy foods on grocery store shelves are filled with bugs you didn't know you were eating. In fact, the average person consumes about a pound-and-a-half of flies, maggots, and mites annually without even realizing it. The best part? All of this insect ingestion is in accordance with FDA regulations for food safety!

The buggy truth is, for a whole range of creepy-crawlies, the FDA Manual of Compliance Policy Guide specifies how many (and of what size!) can be in the food we eat. So, since it's “economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” according to the FDA, it might be time to wrap your mind around all the unlisted ingredients that are probably in your kitchen right now.

The following list provides a gut-wrenching catalog of the most shocking, disgusting, and otherwise unappetizing bugs - from their larvae to their “fragments” - found in foods commonly bought and consumed in the United States. So, the next time you want to take an exotic tour of edible bugs, turn off the television and take a closer look at your dinner.

Photo: Paul Esson / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0

  • Beware Of Maggots In Mushroom Cans

    Good news! If you buy them in cans, mushrooms aren’t just a good source of vitamin D. They might also have an extra dose of protein and fat, courtesy of all the maggots that are permitted per can. The FDA says “an average of 20 or more maggots of any size per 100g of drained mushrooms and the proportionate liquid, or an average of 20 or more maggots of any size per 15g of dried mushrooms” is not allowed, but anything less than that and you're good to go. And, if size is your thing, FDA regulations say that fewer than an “average of 5 or more maggots that are 2mm or longer per 100g of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” is a-okay, too.

  • Anisakis Cysts Hide In Fish

    According to the FDA, more than 60 parasitic cysts - like those containing Anisakis and its relatives in the nematode family - per every 100 freshwater fish are unacceptable, "provided that 20% of the examined fish are infested." But don’t worry if you happen to consume one of those 59 acceptable cysts: all that usually happens when you consume Anisakis is the parasitic worm attempts to burrow through your intestinal wall and eventually causes an immune response that leads to intense abdominal pain and vomiting. So what’s the trick for dealing with these cysts and avoiding illness? It’s recommended to thoroughly cook or hot smoke all fish to at least 140° for at least five minutes or to freeze it at 0° for 48 hours to kill all parasites.

  • Caterpillars Get Comfortable In Frozen Spinach

    “Spinach worms,” AKA caterpillars and their larvae, might be blended into your morning green smoothie if you’re using frozen spinach to make it. Like acceptable maggot levels in canned mushrooms, caterpillars in spinach are allowable in certain quantities and sizes. For example, fewer than “two or more 3 mm or longer larvae or larval fragments” can be present in 24 pounds of spinach as long as their aggregate length doesn't exceed 12 mm. That’s definitely some extra protein in your drink!

  • Digested Wasps Make Figs Delicious

    Who doesn’t enjoy that special, savory-sweet crunch of a fig? If you’re one of the many who does, you might have fig wasps to thank for it. Fig wasps exist in a symbiotic relationship with figs, providing essential fertilization services to the fruit as they hatch inside and feed on it. Some wasps even give their lives to the service, dying inside of a fig in the process of pollen delivery. However, when you consume wasps in figs, they're essentially unrecognizable. Enzymes in the fig digest the wasps, breaking them down into added protein. 

  • Hops Bring Aphid Visitors Into Beer

    Cheers! A reality long known to brewers but perhaps less obvious to novice beer drinkers is the presence of tiny sap-sucking bugs called aphids in the hops used to brew the beer we drink. Because aphids are one of the most common pests in temperate regions, they can actually be found in lots of the food and spices we consume. However, their affinity for hops has led the FDA to legally allow fewer than 2,500 aphids for every 10 grams of hops they inspect.

  • Earworms Add Protein To Canned Corn

    Corn earworm is a species of moth that’s not just a major agricultural pest but can also be found in the canned corn we eat. In fact, for every 24 pounds of corn examined by the FDA, you can acceptably find fewer than “two or more 3 mm or longer larvae, cast skins, larval or cast skin fragments of corn earworm.” So, although you might not see a full-fledged moth floating among the golden kernels, there might be fragmented larvae dispersed throughout them. The least-larval option might be to buy fresh cobs and ensure their thorough cleaning.