Ever heard that there’s a certain number of bugs in a particular food? One of the more unusual claims along these lines is that there are bugs in peanut butter. Given the number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (PB&Js) that many of us ate as kids, if this claim is accurate, we’ve likely eaten quite a few bugs over years just by consuming peanut butter.
Why would there be bugs in peanut butter?
It turns out, there are bugs in American peanut butter because the FDA allows it and companies save money by not tossing out peanut butter that tests ‘positive’ for insect parts but remains within the FDA’s generous limit of 30 parts of ‘insect filth’ for every 100 grams of peanut butter.
The FDA’s “Foods Defect Handbook” section “AOAC 968.35” states that an “Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams” is permissible in peanut butter. If you really want to be grossed out, scroll the “Foods Defect Handbook” for other allowable food contaminants. Or keep reading this article to learn what else is allowed in your peanut butter.
Insects can unintentionally fall into peanut butter during pre-processing or processing. Bugs can also be inside or on shelled and unshelled peanuts. In their MVM-V89, the FDA also allows an “average of 20 or more whole insects or equivalent in 100-pound bag siftings.”
So, the FDA allows some amount of whole insects in peanut siftings and a small number of insect parts in peanut butter, but the FDA does not allow companies to intentionally introduce bugs into peanut butter—an important distinction.
This is nuts! How many bugs are in my peanut butter?
Thankfully, the FDA isn’t permitting entire insect bodies inside your peanut butter, but 30 insect parts per 100 grams of peanut butter seems a significant amount. Of course, if you’d never read this article, you’d never know you were tasting some amount of bugs with your peanut butter, so maybe it’s not really that bad?
What bugs are in peanut butter?
The FDA’s guidelines, unfortunately, don’t specify what types of insect parts are allowed or not allowed in peanut butter. I hypothesis, though, that there are two main categories of bugs you can expect to find in your peanut butter 1) bugs that are attracted to peanuts and 2) bugs commonly found in peanut butter processing facilities (or any food processing facility for that matter)
Common peanut pests
Here are some of the bugs that commonly attack peanut plants. Given these insects enjoy munching on peanut plant leaves and roots, or the peanuts themselves, it seems likely parts of these insects might accidentally end up in peanut butter. Bugs commonly attracted to peanuts and peanut plants are:
- Etiella/Lucerne seed web moth
- White grubs/Scarabs
- White fringed weevil
- False wireworms
- Leafhoppers /Jassids
- Cluster caterpillars
- Silverleaf whitefly
- False wireworms
- Mole Crickets
- Corn earworms/tobacco budworms
- Three-cornered alfalfa hoppers
- Burrower bugs
- Lesser cornstalk borers
- Corn rootworms
- Spider mites
Pests common to food processing plants
Next, some bugs might not be specifically attracted to peanuts but are still found in food processing plants and machinery. They may occasionally find their way into large batches of peanut butter during processing. Though it varies depending on the region a food processing plant is located in, it’s common to find the following pests in food processing plants:
Why on earth does the FDA allow bugs in peanut butter?
The FDA claims that they crafted their peanut butter bug-allowance criteria on “findings (e.g., lengths of hairs, sizes of insect fragments, distribution of filth in the sample, and combinations of filth types found)” in light of “available scientific information (e.g., ecology of animal species represented) and the knowledge of how” peanut butter “is grown, harvested, and processed.”
Further, the FDA
Insect Infestation and Damage — Harvested split or broken pods are susceptible to infestations by insects and molds during the curing process. After shelling, the kernels are highly susceptible to stored product insect infestations. Storage conditions that protect against infestation, such as cold storage, and inspection and fumigation are needed.
While this sounds a bit nuts (pun intended) to me, there is some logic to it to some of the things the FDA allows in our foods. In the video below, a food scientist whos familiar with FDA’s regulations gives the following reasons for the FDA’s food regulations that govern our beloved peanut butter and other common foods:
- Insect parts in some foods are unavoidable: The 179 (sometimes nasty) things the FDA allows in our food are nearly impossible to completely eliminate (hence the ‘insect parts’ & ‘rodent hair’ quotas, amongst others).
- Most foods that bugs are allowed in are plants: Plants and insects coexist so zero-bug is a fantasy. Also, the FDA claims eating bugs (you find in some foods) poses no hazard to people.
- FDA’s bug parts and rodent hair thresholds are maximum thresholds
- Small amounts of larvae and bug eggs are also unavoidable in food
Does organic peanut butter have insects in it too?
The FDA’s “Food Defect Handbook” pertains to organic foods too. So, organic peanut butter is also allowed the same amount of insect parts and rodent hair as non-organic peanut butter, which is an average of 30 parts of ‘insect filth’ and one rodent hair per 100 grams of peanut butter.
Gross. Did you say rodent hair? What else does the FDA allow peanut butter to contain?
In addition to allowing some insect parts in your peanut butter, the FDA also allows one rodent hair per 100 grams of peanut butter. The FDA’s “Foods Defect Handbook” section “AOAC 968.35” states that an “Average of 1 or more rodent hair per 100 grams” is permissible in peanut butter. I
‘m not sure what the FDA means by an average of one or more here. It seems they should word it as “a maximum average of one rodent hair per…” but maybe they have a reason for it. From what I could tell, the FDA intends one rodent hair per 100 grams of peanut butter to be the maximum average (meaning no more than one hair) but their literature’s wording seems to allow for more than one rodent hair per 100 grams of peanut butter.
Here’s how peanut butter is made industrially
Here’s a video of how peanut butter is processed industrially. I can see how, given the scale of this operation, some small amount of insect parts can end up in the finished product. I’m less sold on how rodent hairs could feasibly end up in peanut butter without there being a rodent infestation in the peanut butter factory? If anyone has ideas about how rodent hairs end up in peanut butter during processing, put them in the comments.
It seems to me that the most likely place where insect parts or rodent hairs could get introduced into peanut butter is when all the ingredients are mixed up and blended in a vat. It seems possible for bugs or an occasional mouse or rat to fall in, get ground up with the peanuts, mixed with the oils, and end up in your food.
How do food processing plants keep bugs and rodents out of peanut butter?
Food processing plants implement many pest control measures, depending slightly upon the food they process. Generally, they’ll have the following:
- Door blowers that pull air out of the facility to prevent insects from flying in
- mouse traps checked daily
- UV light systems to exterminate insects that sneak into the facility
- Sanitation department
Frequently Asked Questions about bugs in peanut butter
Does Jif Peanut Butter have bugs in it?
Jif peanut butter (made by Smuckers) must follow FDA food processing requirements. This means Jif peanut butter (like all peanut butter sold in the United States) is allowed the standard 30 bugs parts per 100 grams of peanut butter. I couldn’t find how many bug parts on average are found in Jif peanut butter (this might not be public information but you can view the outcomes of their FDA inspections here.
Is there a way to tell if bugs (or bug parts) are in my peanut butter?
Unless you see a whole insect fragment in your peanut butter, it’s difficult to tell they’re there because they get blended up with the peanuts in the processing plant.
Is there a peanut butter without bugs?
Any FDA-approved peanut butter is allowed a small number of insect parts in it but that doesn’t mean all FDA-approved peanut butter has bug parts. The best way to ensure you’re eating peanut butter without bugs is to make your own peanut butter by buying your own peanuts and blending them up.
Are there bugs in vegan peanut butter?
If you buy vegan peanut butter approved by the FDA, there could be bug parts in it (because the FDA allows it). If you want truly bug-free vegan peanut butter, it’s probably best to purchase your own peanuts and blend them up yourself.
Are there bugs in Skippy peanut butter?
Skippy peanut butter must follow FDA food processing requirements. This means Skippy peanut butter (like all peanut butter sold in the United States) is allowed the standard 30 bugs parts per 100 grams of peanut butter. How many bug parts on average are found in Skippy peanut butter doesn’t seem to be public information but you can view the outcomes of their FDA inspections here.