More Hidden Truths From the Grocery Store

8 min read
Bread Variety

We’ve written before about ways the grocery store runs a few scams. We regret to inform you there is more of that story to be told. We all know it’s best for everyone involved if we don’t think too hard about the mysteries that dwell within hot dogs. But that isn’t the only processed food harboring barf-worthy secrets. Wanna drop a few pounds before climate change turns the entire year into “beach season”? No diet will be more effective than simply reading about all the crap (sometimes literally) they’re putting in your chow.

Nearly All Hamburgers Contain A Little Poop


The “sustainable foods” crowd found much reason to rejoice when a Consumer Reports investigation revealed that “no-antibiotic, grass fed, and organic” ground beef had a markedly lower rate of bacteria such as enterococcus and E. coli – you know, the stuff in poop. But ultimately, no matter what type of pureed bovine you eat, it’s going to contain some amount of dung.

Indeed, every single sample that was tested contained evidence of cow-pie-related bacteria. But if you’d like to minimize your intake of the southbound emergences of northbound cows, then yes, you’re better off shopping in places where there’s also an abundance of kale and artisan cheeses. The choice is yours: Would you rather be full of crap literally or figuratively?

Still, everyone can surely agree that the ideal situation would be if there was no poop in the equation. It’s not just the fact that it’s extraordinarily gross, but also that these (often antibiotic-resistant) colonic cow-borne bacteria can seriously screw you up. While you’d think you might be able to flame-broil the grossness right out with enough heat, the nature of ground beef means the filth is dispersed throughout the length and breadth of your burger. “Make mine well-done. As in, a briquette in a bun, served with a tiny chisel.”

Your Bread Might Contain Duck Feathers And Pig Fur

For those of you who are now terrified of every snack in the fridge and have decided to spend the rest of your days nibbling on the occasional crust of bread like an ascetic monk, we have some unfortunate news. We’ve discussed before about how an average loaf might contain a disconcerting amount of human hair, but that might sound downright appetizing when you come to find that very same loaf could also be fortified with duck feathers and hog fur.

It’s not an accidental thing wherein pigs and ducks get caught in a wheat thresher and wind up being turned into pumpernickel. Feathers and swine fuzz are ingredients in a widely used flour additive called L-cysteine. As is, it bears repeating, human hair. The hair in question is swept up from the floor of Chinese hair salons and then harvested for their amino acids – a practice that is actually kosher, as long as the hair donors weren’t dead at the time. (Imagine a reporter asking a perplexed rabbi about this.)

It’s also perfectly fine to take the follicle-related refuse that’s lying around on the killing floor of the ol’ rendering plant. But considering that we eat animals on the regular, from snout to tongue, this is about as “natural” as it gets. Would you really feel better about it if these additives were concocted synthetically in a lab? (The answer is yes.)

One Third Of All Fast Food Packaging Contains Harmful Chemicals

Fast Food

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super-Size Me may have been a total load of deception-flavored baloney, but the fact remains that eating a lot of fast food isn’t the ideal choice for maintaining a figure that doesn’t look like a sack of chewed bubble gum. Adding insult to obesity, it turns out even the wrappers and boxes fast food comes in can play their own part in reducing your grease-loving life span.

In fact, it’s grease (or rather, mankind’s age-old battle against it grubbing up our fingers) that’s partially to blame. According to a recent report by a coalition of U.S. researchers, the grime-repellent chemicals that are used in a third of all fast food packaging are not only carcinogenic, but can also lead to conditions like “elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning,” with “adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children” as a bonus. Yeah, there might be a legit reason that gawky teenager with the filthy smock forgets to give you enough horsey sauce packets.

The chemicals in question, called PFAS’s (short for “fluorinated out the wazoo”), can be found in all sorts of products, from furniture to carpets to rain coats. Unless those happen to be places where you store your spare sammiches for extended periods of time, though, there’s little risk of potential cancer-causing agents seeping into your meals. Why, you’d have to cover your food in PFAS’s for the danger to be real! Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

The most depressing part may be how those PFAS whatsamajiggers were intended to be an improvement on what companies were formerly inundating our bodies with – Teflon. So what now? Do we start infusing our wrappers with yet another untrustworthy chemical that may or may not turn a sizable portion of the next generation into lobster babies? Or maybe we finally should all agree that it’s socially acceptable to walk around in public with both our faces and extremities resplendent and shining with delicious filth.

Most Canned Goods Still Contain BPA, Which Was Banned From Baby Bottles

Canned Foods

Consumers have been stressing out for a while now about the potential dangers of exposure to Bisphenol-A, better known by its dreaded acronym BPA. It’s a man-made chemical used to harden plastic, and could once be found in everything from microwaveable food containers to baby bottles. Oddly, it seems to mimic estrogen in laboratory rodents, which might explain some stuff. Less amusingly, BPA might be contributing to health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and reproductive problems. And every one of us likely has some of it coursing throughout our veins as we speak.

To be clear, aside from making rats more effeminate, it hasn’t been definitively proven yet whether BPA is truly a menace. Nonetheless, the FDA decided it was a risk that wasn’t worth taking and banned its use in those aforementioned baby bottles, while many companies publicly moved away from its use in their products. The extraordinarily cautious could always avoid plastic stuff and stick to eating their beans from straight out of the can like a hobo, except that canned foods are chock-full of BPA too.

Yep, there’s BPA in the sealant that’s found in canned foods. Luckily, the majority of studies on BPA seem to conclude that it’s harmless in the small doses that a “normal” person gets exposed to. But then there’s that pesky “gray area” in the research – the one that doesn’t account so well for how pregnant women, babies, and small children might be affected. And those even peskier findings that even a little bit of BPA can go a long way in causing an increase in the rate of heart disease. We’re going to have to wait and see. (And maybe keep a caged rat by the cupboard.)

A Loophole Lets Companies Put Random Crap In Your Food If It’s “Generally Regarded As Safe”

Safe Food

There’s something called “GRAS” infiltrating grocery store shelves, and we’re not talking about the fancy kind you get from deliciously murdering a goose. These are substances which are legally “generally regarded as safe,” with the “generally” part being be code for “who the hell knows?” It’s basically an FDA loophole that’s been around for decades, and allows companies to feed us yummy things like car wax and the anal expressions of beavers.

No part of that last sentence is a joke.

It’s not as if the FDA has given companies carte blanche to sneak strychnine into our Hot Pockets or anything like that (although that might be considered redundant). It’s just that the criteria for what’s “generally safe” is a bit loose. Since 1997, there’s been a permanent law in place that, according to Consumer Reports, “allows food companies to add new ingredients to the food supply with almost no federal oversight.” It was originally put in place to allow common ingredients like salt and vinegar to get around the lengthy review processes every time a manufacturer wanted to put them in something new. But since its inception, certain liberties have been taken in regard to what counts as “common.”

For instance, a form of trans fat was on the GRAS books until last year. And something called carnauba, otherwise known as “the queen of waxes,” is still there. Aside from Camaro polish, carnauba can be found in products like varnishes, beauty supplies, or frosting, candies, chewing gum, and gravy. But is it dangerous to consume? Who knows! We have no clue what exactly it does once we eat it, due to the “almost complete lack of biological studies” ever having been performed on it.

Then we have the vanilla flavoring known as castoreum, a substance which is derived from smack dab in the middle of a beaver’s backside. It’s not as popular as it used to be (inexplicably), but for decades, it was in all sorts of perfumes, ice cream, cookies, and cakes. Even today, you’ll never know if you’re in fact gobbling a beaver’s butt, since manufacturers can label it as “natural flavoring” thanks to the magic of GRAS.

While munching on something that comes about through the painstaking labor of disecting the sphincter of a rodent may be off-putting, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about it. So perhaps we shouldn’t work ourselves up into a lather about GRAS dining. That we recently found out that some of them might be causing rats to die horribly from cancer shouldn’t worry you.

Much Of Your Pantry Is Vermin Parts

You may have heard that the FDA allows companies to sell us food with “acceptable” amounts of horrid things (like insect parts, rat hair, etc.) that sort of accidentally come along for the ride. If you hadn’t, good news: We went ahead and did the math for you, so you can have some vividly graphic context for how repugnant eating a normal meal can be.

A can of mushrooms is allowed to contain, for every 100 grams, an average of 20 maggots. If you have a hard time visualizing what 100 grams looks like, the average can of drained mushrooms contains about 156 of ’em. Bonus: The maggots can be of “any size.”

Now that you have a feel for how big a 100-gram portion is, can you picture 13 decapitated insect heads inside one? That’s what you should expect if you’re the kind of weirdo who has a jar of fig paste in your pantry. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be some fancy-pants fig gourmet to get this type of “bonus.” Ground black pepper is even more lenient in terms of the inclusion of random bits of formerly-wriggling bug. As in, you can get 475 fragments per 50 grams. For those who say, “Hey man, it’s all protein,” try using that argument with rat hair … which, yes, is also allowable per 50 grams of pepper.

This brings us back to everyone’s favorite topic: poop. And mold. And any combination thereof. Which are also all A-OK in certain quantities, according to legal standards. “But the amounts would have to be so negligible as to be practically nonexistent!” some may be whimpering as they hurriedly call a plumber to fix their fig-paste-inundated garbage disposal. Well, not in the case of canned pineapple, in which may reside no less than an “average mold count” of 20 percent or more. And yes, there is a permissible amount of “mammalian excreta,” with the exact percentage varying from food to food. But don’t worry too much – ingesting small amounts of rat feces isn’t going to kill you. Just take it in moderation, buddy.