If you’re eating something, you might want to take a few moments to finish before reading this article. We’ll wait right here until you’re ready.
All good? Great.
As writers, we survive off microwaved burritos and supermarket salads. Packaged food serves a crucial function; it’s fast, convenient, and for the most part, safe.
Unfortunately, food packaging facilities aren’t perfect. Occasionally, something slips into your can of cola or your pack of ramen noodles, and the next thing you know, you’re on the local news talking about how you’re taking up home cooking. Keep these stories in mind the next time you’re looking for a quick, easy meal.
1. In the mid-1980s, consumers began finding glass in Gerber baby food.
The good news, we suppose, is that most of the glass was “harmless specks,” as an FDA spokesperson told The New York Times. The bad news was that glass was in jars of baby food. In total, investigators received reports from parents in 30 states.
That led to a nationwide panic, particularly after a Brooklyn woman’s one-year-old son cut his tongue while eating some strained bananas with tapioca.
“I figured he had bitten himself,” the woman said. “I picked up another spoon of baby food. That’s when I saw glass inside the jar.”
In 2001, Gerber switched to plastic packaging for many of its products—not to eliminate contamination, but to make foods more convenient for parents. Unfortunately, that’s not the only issue with infant foods; a 2017 analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund found detectable levels of lead in 20 percent of the 2,164 baby food samples tested.
2. One English man found a mouse baked into his loaf of bread.
It was a rotten day for Oxfordshire resident Stephen Forse, but it was even worse for the mouse.
The tiny rodent presumably thought it had hit the jackpot when it snuck into a bread factory. Instead, it ended up baked into a loaf.
Forse found that out the hard way. He had bought the loaf of bread online and tried using it to make sandwiches for his kids; that’s when he saw something weird wedged into the corner of the loaf.
“Initially I thought it was where the dough had not mixed properly prior to baking,” Forse told the BBC. “As I looked closer, I saw that the object had fur on it.”
Forse and his kids survived the incident. The mouse, sadly, did not.
3. Somehow, a Subway employee baked a 7-inch knife in a customer’s sandwich.
Back in 2008, a guy who just wanted to “eat fresh” got a little more than he bargained for. CBS News reported that New Yorker John Agnesini ordered a cold-cut sandwich from Subway and went in for a bite. Just before chomping down, though, Agnesini noticed that the sandwich was poised to bite back.
There was a 7-inch blade baked into (and protruding from) the bread. It was serrated, which somehow makes it worse.
While he escaped the worst of the danger, Agnesini said he didn’t emerge unscathed. He told CBS News that he had “severe stomach issues” after the meal. He figured the knife was coated with just enough germs to give him food poisoning.
Agnesini worked out a $20,000 settlement with the Subway location but never collected. His lawyer ruined the deal when she violated the confidentiality agreement, found Manhattan federal Magistrate Judge Frank Maas.
4. This isn’t exactly what they meant when they told you to “eat your greens…”
A Michigan couple found a nasty surprise in a bag of frozen vegetables they bought for their dog. Yep, the veggies were for a dog. Even the setup to this story is a bit unusual.
Tim and Marty Hoffman’s dog was on a special diet of meat and vegetables to treat a skin disorder. One day, Marty popped open a bag of frozen veggies and poured it into the dog’s food bowl when she noticed something that clearly didn’t belong.
“It was a stinky little toad, quite disgusting,” Marty told the Michigan news site M Live.
To be fair, it was actually a frog. But she’s got a point about it being disgusting.
The Hoffmans called the FDA and reported the incident. The grocery store that sold them the vegetables, meanwhile, pulled the brand from all their locations. Anyway, the Hoffmans aren’t ones to hold a grudge.
“We’ll still shop [there,]” Tim said. “It’s a good store.”
5. One man found something nightmarish lurking in a bunch of bananas.
Thinking about avoiding packaged foods altogether? You might still run into something sinister. Just ask 52-year-old Neil Langley.
According to Metro, the Tipton, England resident noticed a strange-looking spider a day after making the purchase. He contacted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which turned out to be a good move; the arachnid was an extremely venomous Brazilian wandering spider.
These types of stories tend to pop up from time to time, which isn’t much of a shock to entomologists. Spiders hide out in fruit-bearing plants to catch insects and other pests, and while produce companies have processes in place to prevent arachnids from making it to store shelves, the occasional Brazilian wandering spider or black widow might sneak through.
If you’re worried about running into venomous arachnids, be sure to pay attention when making your purchases.
“It’s like anything: You have to pay attention to what you’re doing and make sure you rinse off your fruit,” spider expert Linda Rayor told Scientific American in 2009. “The wandering and huntsman spiders are both pretty big, so you wouldn’t miss them.”
That’s…uh, a relief?
Let’s say you find something in your food. What do you do?
In most cases, finding an item in your food packaging will prompt a moment of disgust—at which point, you’ll throw away the offending object and move on with your life. Unfortunately, some cases are more severe.
“One client of a neighboring [law] firm was reportedly drinking a [beverage] when he discovered that a shard of glass from the bottling plant was inside, causing lacerations to his esophagus and larynx resulting [in] long-term pain and dysphagia, necessitating a feeding tube,” says Claire Goodwin, legal affairs consultant at the Joseph Farzam Law Firm, a trial firm that specializes in consumer protection litigation. “Needless to say, after hearing this story, I always opt to pour my beverages out into a cup—you can never be too careful.”
Goodwin says that, in cases where litigation is warranted, consumers can benefit from understanding a bit about the legal process.
“While it varies from state to state, the statute of limitations—the timeframe in which you can take legal action—is two years for personal injury in the state of California. That being said, it can be helpful to act quickly.”
If you find yourself injured by an object in your food packaging, a decent attorney may help you cover the medical bills while you evaluate other options.
“Some firms are able to get the plaintiff’s ongoing medical care provided on a lien basis, meaning you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for medical services related to your incident,” Goodwin says. “These bills are paid out of the settlement later down the line.”
And while you might really, really want to throw away that frozen frog, resist the temptation.
“Keeping the food containers, bottles, or found items like glass, metal, bone, or other foreign objects found in food is very helpful to proving your case,” Goodwin notes. “Even if the manufacturer of a food item or owner of a restaurant chain reaches out to you following an incident, it is best to have an attorney handle all communications and negotiations, as they will know best what you are entitled to.”
Another important note: You’re not necessarily going to win an enormous lawsuit simply because you found something gross in your food.
“In personal injury, the burning question is always, ‘What are your damages?’ or, ‘What did I lose from this?’” Goodwin says. “Finding a hair in your salad or a mouse in your fried chicken TV dinner is disgusting, sure, but—assuming you aren’t going ahead and eating the mouse once it is discovered—you didn’t lose your health, wealth, or well-being over it, although it might understandably feel that way for a minute.”
“If you ate salad that was contaminated with salmonella, however, or otherwise [contracted] food poisoning and had to go to urgent care, purchase antibiotics, and take time off work because of a restaurant or grocer’s negligence, then your matter has quantifiable loss: your health, your medical bills, your loss of wages, and in some cases, pain and suffering. These are the factors which we look at when deciding whether or not to pursue a case.”
To summarize: Don’t go looking for a lawsuit, but if you find something weird in your food, take action as quickly as possible. You might be able to save others from suffering the same fate.
“If you have a personal injury matter such as the bottle incident, hang onto the found object, do not speak to anyone else about it—the less you say, the less it can come back and bite you,” Goodwin says. “Make an incident report with the restaurant or food purveyor, and get a copy of it, if possible. Call a personal injury attorney and relate the incident to them, after which point they can either take your case, refer you to someone who specializes in these types of incidents, or educate you about your non-legal avenues of compensation.”