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11 Horrifying Facts About Your Fresh Groceries

Congrats on not eating Doritos and McRibs every day. Be careful, though. Your local veggie and meat aisles can hide health-threatening horrors too.

1. Let's start with this: The U.S. imports 86% of its seafood. Only 0.1% is inspected for drug contamination.


In 2011, the FDA said it inspected only 2% of imported seafood (Canada inspects 18%). Why is this alarming? In a random sample of 34 shrimp shipments in 2008, six out of 34 sampled seafood shipments were found to include banned cancer-causing chemicals such as nitrofuren and malachite green. Those were just 34 random shipments — and the U.S. imports 2.5 million metric tons of shrimp per year.

2. Shrimp and tilapia are often fed untreated animal feces in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.


And these happen to be three countries that together produce nearly half of America's seafood. Bloomberg News discovered in 2012 that shrimp and tilapia farms feed their ponds pig feces in China and chicken manure in Thailand, which, if improperly handled, can contaminate the final product. A quarter of America's food-borne illnesses involve imported seafood.

The crowded, unsanitary conditions of Asian shrimp farms mean they're often splashed full of antibiotics. Most shrimp farms are dug in mangroves and typically need to be abandoned every three to nine years because nothing can live in the the buildup of toxic slime, antibiotics, and heavy metals beyond that.

So yeah, wash and cook these real good, and take it easy on the shrimp buffet deals.

3. A quarter of U.S. raw meats test positive for flesh-eating MRSA bacteria.


MRSA is a multidrug-resistant staph bacteria estimated to cause about 185,000 cases of food poisoning each year. It's found in one-fourth of U.S. raw meats. The bacteria, which is extremely difficult to treat with antibiotics, is usually transferred when cooks don't wash their hands after handling raw meat and then handle other food. As of 2005, 18,650 U.S. deaths per year were attributed to MRSA (more than AIDS) — primarily among those with weak immune systems, like children, the elderly, and people in hospitals.

4. Seventy percent of market ground beef contains ammonia-doused pink slime.

Daniel Acker / Getty Images

The meat industry prefers to call it lean finely textured beef. It's a sludge of blended connective tissue, offal scraps, and skin trimming, which a USDA microbiologist once said would be fraudulent to call ground meat. Once only used for dog food, trimmings were deemed safe for human consumption by a 2001 law — so long as they're doused with ammonia, and no food contained more than 25% of the additive. ABC News' 2012 report found that 70% of our ground beef contained this product, leading to public outcry and a slew of market chains pledging to stop selling slimed foods.

Ammonia is also regularly used as a leavening agent in bread, and as an acidity controller in chocolate and cheese. So ammonia-treated food is more widespread than we think. Using small amounts of ammonia in food was deemed safe in 1974.

5. Apples, celery, and bell peppers are the most pesticide-contaminated produce.

Though most market samples passed the EPA's safety guidelines, these three popular kinds of produce are most likely to exceed acceptable levels of pesticide. Still, the FDA would like to remind you that the benefits of eating these types of produce outweigh their risks. You can look up the pesticide levels of your produce at EWG.

6. Farmed salmon is prone to parasites and contains eight times the level of cancer-causing PCB.


Warning: DO NOT CLICK THIS HORRIBLE SALMON WORM REPORT IF YOU'RE EATING. Unless you know it's been frozen beforehand, cook it well.

PCB, a toxic chemical found in electronics and fire retardants, enters the oceans through waste, which is then ingested by smaller species like herring and anchovies, which are then ground up in extremely concentrated form to make farm salmon feed.

A 2004 Pew-funded report found eight times as much PCB in Atlantic farmed salmon as wild-caught specimen in markets across the U.S. As much as 80% of salmon consumed in America is farm-raised.

7. Chickens are fed arsenic to make their flesh pink.


You may have already heard the litany of chicken horrors: the hormones and antibiotics, the hellscapes of cramped cages, the way fillets are pumped full of salt water to make them seem juicier than they are.

Add to that list arsenic-laced chicken feed, which was a product sold by Pfizer that makes chicken grow faster and pinker. The same feed is illegal in most of Europe, but Pfizer didn't stop selling it until 2011. Even now, poultry producers aren't breaking the law if they use leftover stockpiles of the feed (except in Maryland).

Arsenic is also another cancer-causing agent. Even if the amount in chicken isn't terribly harmful, polluted chicken waste can still poison our waters and lands.

8. Most of the honey you buy isn't real.


The EU has banned the sale of honey imported from many parts of Asia, but a third of U.S. honey is reportedly smuggled from India and China. Food Safety News found in 2011 that most store-bought honey had no pollen and contained a lot of additives, like flavored corn syrup and sometimes lead and antibiotics.

9. Tuna mercury poisoning is real.


The media made good fun of Jeremy Piven in 2009 when he dropped out of a Broadway show because he ate sushi too often. But what about the man who ate two cans of tuna every day to get his gym protein? He did that for two years, and reportedly soon found himself losing balance as he walked and having chest pains. Doctors discovered alarming levels of mercury in his body. As of 2011, he claimed that he hasn't been able to exercise.

Whether the fish is canned or fresh, doctors don't recommend more than 5 ounces of tuna a week.

10. Many U.S. farms use reclaimed human waste and sewage sludge as fertilizer.


The human waste is processed through treatment plants, of course — which means its fecal pathogens are reduced to safe levels, and most heavy metals are filtered out. But fecal matter isn't even the main problem; it's the shampoos and household chemicals sluicing down your drains, passing the filters, and leaching into our produce...

11. You basically can't avoid eating phthalates.

Phthalates are environmental hormones that can damage reproductive function and may cause cancer. The world's manufacturing industries use 2 million tons of phthalates to soften plastic and rubber each year, which end up in farms' reclaimed sewage sludge, our food containers, and even in rainwater. They're everywhere. People who eat "healthier" actually ingest more of them from produce/vegetables. There's virtually no way of avoiding them.

Bon appetit, y'all. Soon we'll all look like Slimer.


Unless we can all start magically growing our own food.