Ask the Pharmacist: The gross allowances of bug materials in our food supply

Suzy Cohen

You already know how much I despise the pushing of unnecessary, toxic chemicals on us, right?  But there’s something even more revolting. It’s the government handbook called, “The Food Defect Action Levels.” This guidebook spells out exactly how much mold, rat hair, maggots, parasites and bug parts can go into our food. It’s shocking how generous these limits are!

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If you just want to eat your food and keep your head in the sand, here’s your cue to stop reading me and turn to the comic section. If you have a morbid curiosity of what the FDA shamelessly allows us to eat, then read on.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

One peanut butter sandwich (approximately 100 grams of peanut butter) could have 30 or more pieces of insect parts in it. (Now I know that is gross, and I also know that no amount of jelly will allow you to un-see that visual so I’m sorry I’ve messed with your brain! FYI, the jelly drama is about to get worse.)


Carmine is a lovely word to use, it flows off the tongue so beautifully, but it comes from boiling up some beetles. It’s a beautiful red dye, that adds color to some popular brands of red/purple jelly and frosting. I warned you it was going to get worse!

Carmine is found in millions of different foods, candies and especially lipsticks. You may see it as 75470 or E129, or the most deceptive of all, “natural red 4.” These are all code for carmine. Starbucks was pressured to get rid of the buggy colorant from their beautiful strawberry Frappuccino.


The FDA approves of cockroach and other bug parts in chocolate bars and liqueurs. The FDA lets them put on average 60 insect pieces into every 100 grams of chocolate! This is considered safe for consumption by the FDA. Egad! Remember these bugs carry pathogens such as salmonella, E coli and listeria. 


Gelatin is a tasteless compound (a protein) that is used to thicken candy, and lots of foods and drinks. It comes specifically from prolonged boiling of animal parts like skin, bones, connective tissue and cartilage. It is usually pork derived, but can also come from pigs, chicken, cows and fish.


Shellac is a resin that is excreted by the female lac bug. The bug poop is processed and dissolved in alcohol which then makes it a liquid shellac, which can then be used as a food glaze or dye. You’ll find it on gobs of candy including candy corn, Raisinets, Tootsie Rolls, Junior Mints, Sugar Babies and jelly beans. It’s used widely in the dietary supplement and pharmaceutical industry. 

These additives are not considered “unsafe,” however they are gross, unnecessary additives that should not be so rampant in our food supply. The FDA should reduce the acceptable allowances and closely regulate food makers, so we don’t have to eat so many nauseating things! 

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit