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U.S. FDA Defect Levels: Insects, Feces, Mold, and Other Nasties

The United States Food and Drug Administration has a clear set of guidelines that states what the acceptable contamination levels are for our food.

Small levels of contamination are expected and include insect parts, whole insects, insect and mammal feces, mold, and objects like sticks, cigarette butts, burlap bag material, etc

As long as manufacturers and distributors don’t hit the defect level thresholds then the small non-hazardous amounts of insects, mold, feces, random objects, etc. are actually quite normal and usually not noticeable or harmful. The US FDA Defect Levels Handbook lists all food items with acceptable levels documented.


A mouse found in a tin of beans

Some example defect levels that should not be exceeded are:

  • Peanuts: 20 or more whole insects sifted out of 100 pounds of peanuts on average
  • Potato chips: An average of 6% are rotten
  • Ground paprika: Average mold more than 20%; or average of more than 75 insect fragments per 25 grams; or average of more than 11 rodent hairs per 25 grams
  • Cinnamon bark: Average of 1 mg or more of mammal excrement per pound
  • Cocoa beans: Average of 10 mg or more of mammal excrement per pound

These are the maximum levels the FDA considers harmless, actual levels should usually be lower than the defect levels.


  • Defect Levels Handbook (link is external). United States Food and Drug Administration. 2013. Summary: This is the actual U.S. FDA Defect Level Handbook and it lists all defect levels, definitions, explanations, etc.

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