Don't worry, the FDA knows about it
EC: Your Coffee Grounds Are Full of Bugs, and That's OK
Credit: Illustration by Maxine Builder and Lauren Kolm

The more I learn about the modern American food system, the more I realize that there's some... unexpected stuff floating around in the food I eat. Apparently, there are insects in my coffee grounds. Or, at least fragments of insects. And the most shocking part of this revelation? The US Food and Drug Administration—the agency that's in charge of regulating the safety and quality of America's food industry—not only knows that there are bugs in ground coffee, but regulates the number of bug and insect fragments that are allowed in our coffee (and other foods, for what it's worth).

The FDA considers bugs "natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard." What that means is that bugs naturally end up in coffee grounds and other foods during the manufacturing process. For the most part, these bugs are harmless. And really, there's nothing gross about eating bugs anyway. Research from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that "insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people" across the globe. The organization even identifies bugs as a sustainable protein source that could alleviate food insecurity.

But there is something a little disconcerting about eating bugs when you're not expecting it or don't know that it's even happening. And there's potentially a lot of bugs—and beans damaged by bugs—in that can of pre-ground coffee you bought the other day. The FDA will only regulate if more than 10 percent or more of green coffee beans, by count, are either insect-infested or insect-damaged. According to data from the insect-control company Terro, as published by Huffington Post, you could unknowingly be ingesting 136,080 fragments of bugs in your coffee annually, at the very worst.

That is, to be fair, the worst case scenario. And remember, these so-called food defects have not been known to be a hazard to human health. That's why these limits exist. But you should know what might be in your coffee before you brew it—and if the possibility of ingesting any bugs is enough to turn you off of the pre-ground stuff, maybe it's time to invest in a grinder and start buying whole beans instead.

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder