How many bugs does the average person eat without knowing?

Bugs and insects are a regular part of many cultures’ diets around the world. However, in Western cultures, eating bugs is often considered taboo. Despite this, most people in Western countries still end up consuming a fair amount of insect parts and bug fragments without even realizing it.

Why do people eat bugs?

Eating insects and other bugs has been a normal part of human diets for thousands of years. In many parts of the world, bugs are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 2 billion people worldwide regularly consume insects as part of their diet.

Some of the most commonly eaten insects globally include:

  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Ants
  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Wasps
  • Bee larvae

Insect eating, known formally as entomophagy, is most common in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. However, the practice is starting to gain traction in Western countries as a sustainable and healthy protein source.

Why don’t people in Western cultures eat bugs?

The main reason bug eating is taboo in Western cultures is that it goes against social norms and conventions. Culturally, insects have stereotypically been associated with filth, disease, and decay. Therefore, the idea of intentionally eating them is met with disgust.

Some other reasons bugs are avoided in Western diets:

  • Perception that bugs carry disease
  • Dislike of how some bugs look or feel
  • Lack of knowledge of how to cook with insects
  • Minimal history and culture around eating insects

However, negative perceptions of entomophagy are slowly starting to change. A growing number of Western chefs, scientists, and entrepreneurs are working to normalize insect eating – touting the health, environmental, and economic benefits.

How many bugs do people unintentionally eat?

While intentionally eating insects may not be common in Western cultures, most people still end up accidentally consuming a fair share of bug parts and insect fragments over the course of a year. The Food and Drug Administration actually has established legal limits for how many insect parts and rodent hairs can be present in food products.

Some common food products and their legally allowed insect contamination levels include:

Food Product Allowed Contamination Level
Wheat flour Average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams
Ground thyme Average of 1,250 or more insect fragments per 10 grams
Canned and frozen spinach Average of 50 or more aphids, thrips, and mites per 100 grams
Peanut butter Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams
Frozen broccoli Average of 60 or more aphids, thrips, and mites per 100 grams

As you can see, microscopic bugs and insect parts find their way into many processed and packaged foods. So even people who would never intentionally eat an insect are still getting bug protein in their diet.

Types of bugs and insect parts commonly found in food

There are a few specific types of contaminant bugs and insect fragments that commonly end up in foods:

  • Beetle fragments – Tiny shattered body parts from various species of beetles. These are one of the most prevalent insect contaminants.
  • Fly eggs and maggots – Maggots are fly larvae, and can sometimes infest grains and cereals. Fly eggs are tiny, oval-shaped, and white.
  • Moth larvae fragments – Caterpillars of various moth species that may infest flour, grains, or spices.
  • Aphids – Small sap-sucking insects that can end up in produce like broccoli and spinach.
  • Thrips – Tiny insects that feed on plants and can inadvertently get harvested along with crops.
  • Mites – Tiny spider-like arachnids that feast on grains, cereals, flours, and cheeses.

Other types of insect contaminants can include ants, cockroaches, wasps, caterpillars, worm fragments, and more.

Estimated number of bugs eaten per year

Experts estimate that the average American unintentionally consumes around 1 to 2 pounds of flies, maggots, mites and other bug parts annually.

A scientific study published in the Journal of Environmental Health actually broke down the number of insects consumed per food item:

Food Item Est. number of insects consumed annually
Bread and bakery products Around 500 insect fragments annually
Candy and chocolate Around 125 insect fragments annually
Rice Around 150 insect fragments annually
Pasta Around 225 insect fragments annually
Flour Around 100 insect fragments annually
Spices Around 475 insect fragments annually

Based on these estimates, the average American consumes around 1,575 insect fragments from processed foods each year. That amounts to around half a cup of bugs!

Should we worry about eating bug fragments?

For people who are disgusted by the thought of eating insects, knowing they are consuming bug remnants on a daily basis can be upsetting. However, food safety experts say ingesting small amounts of insect fragments is not inherently dangerous.

The insect parts that end up in food products are typically microscopic. Also, they come from grain and flour loving insects that do not spread human disease or pose significant health risks.

The FDA allows contamination by insect fragments and rodent hairs because it is impossible to keep all processed foods 100% bug-free and pure. As long as the contamination is within legal limits, there is minimal risk for any negative consequences.

Of course, people with severe allergies to insect stings or bites may want to take extra precautions if they are highly sensitive. But for average consumers, experts agree that such small levels of insect contamination are safe to ingest.

Avoiding bug contaminated foods

People who want to minimize bug intake can follow these tips:

  • Wash fresh produce very thoroughly under running water.
  • Inspect grains, cereals, and flours for visible insect parts before use.
  • Keep dried goods in sealed containers to prevent pantry moths.
  • Buy high quality spices from reputable companies.
  • Rinse canned goods before use.
  • Avoid boxes and bags of food that are damaged and could allow contamination.

Should we eat more bugs?

While unintentional insect consumption may seem unappetizing, some argue that Americans and Europeans should intentionally incorporate more bugs in their diets.

Advocates point to the following benefits of entomophagy:

  • Sustainability – Pound for pound, insects require far less food, water and land than conventional livestock. Insect farming has a low environmental footprint.
  • Nutrition – Insects provide protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Grasshoppers, for example, have similar protein levels to chicken.
  • Food security – Insects can provide needed calories and nutrition for a growing global population amidst finite resources.
  • Economic opportunities – Insect farming requires low startup costs, providing income potential for rural communities.

However, convincing Westerners to intentionally eat insects will require a major cultural shift and education around entomophagy. Some companies are working to normalize insect eating by using bugs as ingredients in snacks, protein powders and other packaged foods.

Guidance for safe insect eating

People curious about intentionally incorporating insects in their diet can follow this advice:

  • Start with small amounts of mild tasting insects like crickets.
  • Buy insects from reputable and regulated farms or companies.
  • Avoid wild caught insects which may carry pathogens.
  • Introduce new insect types slowly to check for allergies.
  • Cook insects thoroughly to reduce risk of illness.


While insect eating is taboo in Western cultures, the average person still unintentionally consumes around a pound of bug parts and insect fragments each year. This incidental bug intake is considered safe by food regulators. Looking ahead, some people believe that overcoming cultural biases against entomophagy could provide environmental, nutritional and economic benefits.

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