Hey, it’s all protein. You unwittingly eat insects all the time

A friend once told me when he lived in the Middle East as a child, he would find cockroaches in his Cheerios and Frosted Flakes all the time.

He said at first, the cereal ended up immediately in the trash. After awhile, he’d just pick out the bugs and pour himself a bowl. Eventually, he just ignored the bugs. “Hey, it’s all protein,” the friend said, delivering the punch line of what was a joke disguised as a travelogue.

But the fact is, Americans eat bugs all the time. You may have just eaten some insects for lunch.

The Food & Drug Administration allows for certain levels of bugs and other contaminants in food because largely insects generally don’t pose a health a risk.

So what does the FDA allow?

Pasta can contain up to 225 insect fragments. One percent of your chocolate can contain insect parts. That cup of raisins can have up to 33 fruit fly eggs. Spinach can have up to 50 aphids per 100 grams.

And you don’t want to know about a 3.5 ounce can of mushrooms. Too late: one can is allowed to have nine maggots and 74 mites. Maggots aren’t exactly naked to the human eye, FDA.

The FDA has previously confirmed there may be up to an “average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams” of peanut butter and an “average of one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.”

You can check out the whole agency’s bug-friendly list by clicking here.

Americans are so grossed out about bugs as food, eating insects are used as crazed feats on shows like Fear Factor. In 2004, the Palm Beach Post interviewed Kelly Crosby-Heyniger of West Palm Beach who got a spot on the show by eating a 7-inch worm for her audition tape.

“I chewed him instead of swallowing, and I smiled really big for the camera to show all the dirt I had in my teeth,” she said.

For eating? “Yes.” For soup? “Yes.” For sandwich? “Yes.” (Photo by Quinn Comendant/Creative Commons)

Intrepid Palm Beach Post reporter Susan Salisbury has been all over the nexus of insects and food like DDT for years.

In 2013, she wrote about how the yogurt king Dannon was under fire by a consumer group to stop using, as Salisbury put it, “critter-based dye.” Insects are also part of lipstick, shampoo, and other products which often have a red-hued.

Salisbury also interviewed in 2015 Penn State University food science professor on how insects could be part of a nutritious diet.

Florida is known for its insects, and Floridians spend millions trying to kill many of them, whether it’s roaches, ants or termites.

Penn State University food science professor  John Coupland, suggested to start out slow and work your way up to bigger creepy-crawlies.

“I don’t think your entry-level insect needs to be a fried cockroach,” said Coupland, who is also a spokesman for the Institute of Food Technologists.  “Try and eat something that doesn’t look like an insect, to begin with.”

 He suggested suggests catching a cricket, cleaning it, drying it out and grinding it up.  “There is a huge range of bugs that can be eaten,” he said.

But, of course, just because bugs can be eaten doesn’t mean they should be crawling over your restaurant dish. Consumers should be very concerned with restaurants which have a cockroach problem, the Post reported in February.

Insects can be a nutritious part of your diet, Penn State professor says.

If you are bugged out about bugs as food, you are being a little American-centric.

CBS affiliate, WESH-TV, in Orlando notes that Spencer Michaels, reporting for the PBS News Hour, found that 80 percent of the world’s population eats insects as a regular part of their diet.

Scientists have identified  1,700 of the 1.1 million species of insects are edible. And yes, they contain lots of protein, hardly any fat and do not cause the types of illnesses caused by eating beef or pork.