Local 2 investigates what's in your food

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - Maybe you've gotten good at reading labels and checking the ingredients of the foods you buy. Unfortunately, one woman discovered that won't necessarily protect you from some unsavory surprises.

Kristen Wells said she found a worm in a can of Campbell's Chicken Corn Chowder soup in February. She said she discovered the worm on her spoon after she had already eaten most of her lunch.

"I dropped the spoon," she said.  "I was just sitting there for a minute and I wanted to throw up, of course, and I couldn't."

When KPRC Local 2 told her the worm is acceptable by Food and Drug Administration standards, Wells she said she's rethinking canned goods altogether.

"I don't think most people realize that at all," said Wells.  

Did you realize that a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter could contain 134 insect fragments? A seven-ounce box of macaroni or noodles can have up to 224 insect parts and four rodent hairs. A small can of mushrooms can have about 20 maggots before an FDA inspector would be required to start an investigation.

"They're called residue tolerances, and basically you're allowed to have a certain number of rodent hairs per ounce of apple butter, for example," explained Sarah Klein, a nutrition consumer advocate with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  

But Campbell said its standards are higher than what federal guidelines allow. John Faulkner, the director of Campbell's Soup's brand communications, said Campbell does receive complaints about its corn chowder more often because corn borer worms live in corn. 

In fiscal year 2011, Campbell had 1401 reports of insects or larvae in corn chowder, but to put those numbers into perspective, Faulkner said that's about one complaint for every 3 million cans of soup.

"No complaint is acceptable, and our consumer affairs team does their best to explain what the consumer has experienced, and we always offer a refund that more than covers the cost of the purchased product," Faulkner wrote in an emailed statement. "If there are continued questions, we will retrieve the item and run an analysis and provide a written report to the consumer of our findings."

What Raheel Bhimani said he found embedded in his snack cracker was nothing you'd find in nature.

"It was strange because it was like a staple, like a pin," Bhimani said.  "If I would've eaten it, then I could've possibly choked on it."

Bhimani was eating a package of Noriann's Snack Crackers Bites when he pulled out a cracker with a metal pin that appeared to be baked inside.

"Those things are not allowed," Klein said. "There is no tolerance for them, certainly in terms of regulatory allowance for those things in food. They're simply not allowed."

But when Bhimani tried to report what he found to Noriann's, he couldn't find the company. The address listed with the Secretary of State's Office lead KPRC Local 2 to a post office box inside a UPS Store on Memorial. Turns out, the crackers are made and packaged in Panama then shipped to Houston to be distributed to local grocery stores. 

KPRC Local 2 tracked down the owner. He sent the following statement:

"Although we do not manufacture or package the products (we only distribute), we take this unfortunate situation very seriously and so does the manufacturer. The product has been on the shelves of over 100 stores for about two years and we have never had a complaint.  PASCUAL was immediately notified yesterday, and the line that produces this particular item has been shut down for a complete quality control inspection. FDA has been contacted and the company is working with them to "field" this complaint and be available to them for any information/inquiries they may have."

"The FDA simply doesn't have the manpower, nor do they have the statutory authority to have somebody, an inspector, in a plant at all times," said Klein.

The FDA does take complaints about foreign objects in food. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, the FDA will either investigate it immediately or will cover it during the next inspection of the facility responsible for the product.

If you have a complaint, contact the FDA's Texas Consumer Complaint Coordinator at 214-253-5237. Click here for the list of complaint coordinators for every region.

Click here to find the FDA's allowable limits of insects and rodent filth in all kinds of canned foods.

If you have a news tip or question for KPRC Local 2 Investigates, drop them an e-mail or call their tipline at (713) 223-TIPS (8477). Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.