You’ll Wish You Didn’t Read This List of Horrible Things That Food Companies Are Hiding in Your Groceries

If you’re buying processed foods, you likely avoid reading the ingredient label. It usually looks more like a chemistry quiz you’d fail than it does a list of consumable foods.

However, you may want to start. The following list of “ingredients” — from bugs to animal secretions, to various hairs — are allowed, in certain entities, in your food. Some of them are unlisted, while others go by code names you’d never decipher otherwise.

Cochineal beetles

a close-up photo of skittles

The red Skittles are delicious — but also made out of bugs. | Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Red food dye — the beloved chemical that gives your Skittles, Starbursts, and red-colored pastries their deep, delicious hue — isn’t as harmless as you might think. Manufacturers dry the cochineal beetles and crush them into a powder that, when mixed with water, turns red.

According to a Change.org petition, you’ve likely consumed over one pound of this red dye in your life, which adds up to a staggering 70,000 cochineals. Look for the keywords carmine, cochineal extract, or carminic acid on food labels to spot the red powder.

Next: Beetles are in more than just red dye products.

Beetle eggs

Fresh green asparagus

Your farm-fresh asparagus could be infested with beetle eggs. | Vima/iStock/Getty Images

Turns out it isn’t just the beetle itself you need to watch out for, but their eggs. “Asparagus beetles” attach themselves to the growing veggie “just as the asparagus spears are emerging from the soil in spring.”

The beetles immediately lay their eggs on the spears, ferns, or flower buds of the vegetable. While the FDA Defect Levels Handbook requires manufacturers keep these eggs to less than “10% by count of spears or pieces … infested with 6 or more attached asparagus beetle eggs and/or sacs,” it’s important to consider that the Handbook itself proclaimed it’s “incorrect to assume that because the FDA has an established defect action level for a food commodity, the food manufacturer need only stay just below that level.” Bring on the beetle eggs.

Next: This is the last word we’d want to read in reference to our fish.

Parasitic cysts

fish market

Fish found in the North Atlantic can be riddled with parasitic cysts. | iStock.com/Brothers_Art

Blue Fin and freshwater herring, commonly found in the North Atlantic waters, is low in mercury and high in Omega-3 fatty acids, making it a nutritious choice … right? While we aren’t contesting the nutritional value of the bluefish, it’s a bit concerning that the FDA allows up to 60 parasitic cysts per 100 fish, or “100 pounds of fish provided that 20% of the fish examined are infested.”

Next: Guess what could be crawling through your vegetables?

Mites

raw broccoli

Broccoli and mushrooms can be coverd in mites. | iStock.com/Eric_Urquhart

The only thing you want crawling around your vegetables is plenty of nutrients, but that isn’t the case when it comes to mites. If you’ve ever checked your frozen broccoli only to find the green stems appear to be moving, it’s because there’s an allotted “average of 60 or more aphids and/or … mites per 100 grams,” according to the FDA.

Broccoli isn’t the only veggie to look out for … they also legally allow up to 74 mites in a 3.5-ounce can of mushrooms.

Next: You might be surprised what this popular ingredient is made of.

Gelatin

Gelatin mold

You don’t want to know what went into that gelatin. | Edith64/iStock/Getty Images

Gelatin — you know, a key ingredient in gummy bears, jello, jams, marshmallows, and hundreds of other processed foods — is an odorless and basically tasteless protein that’s made from collagen.

What’s collagen, you ask? “Boiled down animal connective tissue,” Business Insider reminds us. It’s made by boiling down the leftovers of animals like pigskins, animal horns, and cattle bones.

Next: Not even your beer is safe, it seems.

Dried fish bladder

Inclined Glass of beer

Ever wondered what gives ale that crisp, golden hue? | photologica/Getty Images

Dried fish bladder, known as isinglass, is used for “clarifying ale,” according to the dictionary. Translation? It’s what gives most beers, especially those in Britain, their rich golden hue.

According to the BBC, isinglass has been added by brewers for over a century as a “fining agent” that makes the beer clearer. This is an issue for vegetarians and vegans who likely don’t know that the fish organ is swimming around in their drink.

Next: The one thing chili and raisins may have in common.

Sand

Wendy's Chili

Did your last cup of chili taste a little gritty? | Wendy’s via Facebook

Forget the fear of finding a finger in your Wendy’s chili; turns out every cup contains silicon dioxide, an anticaking agent designed to prevent the powdered ingredients from clumping together.

Silicon dioxide is also known as “sand” or “glass powder” and is found in more nutritional foods than chili: Turns out it’s hiding in your raisins as well. The FDA Handbook set a restriction on how much sand was too much: an “average of 40 mg or more of sand and grit per 100 grams of natural or golden bleached raisins.”

Next: Ever wonder what keeps your cheese clump-free?

Sawdust

Grated parmesan cheese

How much cheese is actually in your parmesan cheese? | sil63/Getty Images

Cellulose, also known as sawdust or “wood pulp” is a common ingredient found in shredded cheeses that acts as an anti-clumping agent.

Castle Cheese Inc., a Pennsylvania-based cheese distributor, made headlines when an FDA-led investigation revealed its parmesan cheese was actually a mix of cheddar and cellulose/wood pulp. The issue wasn’t the cellulose itself — although it is a common ingredient in processed foods — but that the label didn’t properly indicate that the wood pulp was in the “parmesan cheese.”

Next: This gross additive apparently smells amazing.

Castoreum

Beavers

These guys help make ice cream, perfume, and gum. | Allison Shelley/Getty Images

If you’re eating strawberry or vanilla flavored ice cream and choose to check out the ingredient label, there’s a solid chance you’ll see “natural flavoring” in the mix. Natural flavoring is the category castoreum falls under. Castoreum is the street name for “a mixture of the anal secretions and urine of beavers.” Wait, what?

Castoreum, an FDA-approved additive, is characterized as the “brown slime” that comes from a beaver’s castor gland. Sounds appetizing, right? Despite its disgusting origin, it’s reportedly very fragrant. Manufacturers use it in perfumes, ice cream, and gum, among other sweet foods.

Next: Your canned foods may be a cause for concern.

Maggots

Agaricus, in a bowl on a rustic wooden counter ready to be cleaned and washed for dinner,

Be very careful to look over canned mushrooms. | iStock.com/budgetstockphoto

Look out for maggots in multiple canned foods common in the grocery store: Mushrooms, maraschino cherries, and canned tomatoes, to name a few. The FDA allows up to 19 maggots in the aforementioned 3.5-ounce can of mushrooms, an average of 5% or fewer maraschino cherries, and one to two maggots per 500 grams in a can of tomatoes.

Next: Look out for chemicals.

Sodium bisulfate

Pile of potato chips

The agent found in cleaning agents may be in your chips. | dr3amer/Getty Images

Sodium bisulfate, which is actually considered more sulfur than it is sodium, is a corrosive chemical used in toilet bowl cleaning agents and film development alike.

So what does it mean when it pops up on an ingredient list? While the FDA had to regulate sodium bisulfate use due to allergic reactions and deaths linked to the chemicals, it’s still used in moderation to preserve the color in some seafood and wine as well as bleach flour and grain products like potato chips.

Next: You probably won’t be able to tell if this ends up in your spinach.

Larvae

Spinach in and around a bowl on a wooden table.

Caterpillars love spinach as much as you do. | iStock.com/dionisvero

FDA regulations allow 2 to 3 millimeter or longer larvae or “larval fragments or caterpillars” in your frozen or canned spinach. The FDA has confirmed that consuming these larvae in such small amounts is harmless, it’s commonly plaguing this green vegetable — and most of the time, you won’t see it.

Next: Certain fruits are allowed to have trace amounts of this concerning thing. 

Mold and mildew

peaches on wooden background

Be very wary of canned peaches. | iStock/Getty Images

Yes, you prefer your bleu cheese moldy, but what about your fruit? Nectar can have a mold count of 12% or less, and canned or frozen peaches are allowed to be 3% “wormy or moldy.”

Mildew could be contaminating your canned greens as well. The FDA allows “10% or more of leaves, by count or weight, showing mildew over 1/2″ in diameter,” but no more than that. Noted.

Next: Cinnamon lovers, be warned.

Rat hair

Rat in a tunnel

Rats love chocolate and cinnamon. | AFP/Getty Images

While you won’t find it on the ingredients label anytime soon, the FDA reportedly allows “one rat hair per 100 grams in every six 100-gram subsamples of chocolate.” It’s more prevalent in cinnamon – an average of “11 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams” of cinnamon is apparently too many to sell.

Next: Forget finding a hair in your pasta at the dinner table.

Feathers

Aflac duck at stock exchange

Some people love to eat duck. No one likes to eat duck feathers. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Well, duck feathers or human hair. We aren’t sure which we’d prefer to find out we were eating. L-Cysteine, an amino acid used as a preservative to extend the shelf-life of bread, can be found in duck and chicken feathers as well as human hair.

While most of the L-Cysteine found in food comes from human hair, McDonald’s reportedly uses duck feather L-Cysteine in desserts like their Hot Apple Pie and Warm Cinnamon Roll.

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