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Post Column: Nasty surprises find their way into diners' food, legally

Welcome back from the holiday season! Over break, we’ve eaten candy canes, turkeys, pudding, fruit cake and pies of all varieties.

Oh, and rats! You can’t forget the rats! No dinner is ever complete without rat pieces here and there.

You see, in the American food industry, rats have had a rather long history embedded in our food — quite literally. Perhaps the most infamous case occurred in 2006, when the wife of Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator coach Todd Haley found an intact rat covered with ranch dressing in her McSalad after taking seven bites of the meal. Yikes.

McDonald’s was hit with a $1.7 million lawsuit, which it resolved by providing the Haley family an undisclosed out-of-court settlement. However, if you ask the FDA what McDonald’s did wrong, the FDA would not say McDonald’s was not supposed to put rodents in its salad.

Instead, the FDA would say McDonald’s put too much rodent into the salad.

Yes — as horrible as it is, FDA regulations actually allow limited fragments of rats in foods. Technically speaking, the FDA allows four rat hairs in every 100 grams of processed food.

Rats don’t just find their way into salads. In 2009, oil worker Ronald Ball bought a Mountain Dew from the vending machine, took a swig of it, and then discovered an intact dead mouse inside the can.

Perhaps more bizarre is what occurred after Ball filed a lawsuit for $50,000. Pepsi issued a response to Ball’s complaint stating that Ball must have been lying, not because the company would never allow a mouse to get into their soda, but instead because Mountain Dew was so acidic that it would have dissolved the mouse into a “jelly-like substance.”

A round of applause for Pepsi, for making everyone feel better. It’s fine if a mouse got into your soda — you’ll never know, because you’ll just think you’re drinking some sketchy jelly-stuff.

Meanwhile, the FDA has slightly different rules for peanut butter. The FDA formally states that for every 100 grams of peanut butter, a maximum of only 30 insect fragments and one rat hair is allowed. I will leave you to your imagination in considering the phrase “insect fragments.”

The FDA is also forgiving with other unidentified objects in foods. For asparagus, at most 10 percent of each unit can be infected with six or more beetle eggs. For broccoli, at most 60 aphids and mites are allowed per 100 grams. For cinnamon bark, 1 milligram of animal excrement is allowed per pound.

Beetle eggs, aphids, mites and animal excrement — the secret ingredients in your dinner that the FDA itself has signed off on as OK. Bravo, federal government, for adding that extra something to otherwise plain foods.

At the same time, 50 percent of all meats are infected with harmful, multi-drug-resistant bacteria. Specifically, those kinds of bacteria have the potential to cause fatal illnesses such as sepsis, endocarditis and pneumonia.

Bacteria isn’t the only unexpected (and unwanted) ingredient in food. Salads, in particular, are refectories of delicious chemicals. Salad dressing contains titanium oxide, a chemical used in paints and sunscreen, to make it appear more white and fresh. Packaged salads have propylene glycerol, an ingredient used in antifreeze, to make the lettuce appear crispier.

Even innocent-looking jelly beans have problems. Jelly beans are touched up with a chemical called shellac, which is used to improve shine of wood and furniture.

Let us return to the original topic of discussion: rats and their hairs. Remember, we can’t blame rats for food poisoning. Humans add unsavory hairs to our food too. A study done by a group of forensic technicians have shown that the average fast-food patron ingests 12 pubic hairs at every meal.

How plainly unacceptable. The FDA should step in and show these restaurants what sanitation entails!

Oh, wait.

Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Should the FDA be tougher on rat hairs? Email Kevin at kh319910@ohiou.edu

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