Famim Ahmed

Researcher, Dismislab
Cockroaches in chocolate: False claim on science pages
This article is more than 1 year old

Cockroaches in chocolate: False claim on science pages

Famim Ahmed

Researcher, Dismislab

Many of us simply love chocolates. But how would you react if you heard there were insects in it? Many would be deeply concerned. Some might panic. That’s exactly what happened recently.

Several science enthusiasts’ pages and websites claim that chocolate has cockroaches in them, and furthermore that this is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many chocoholics and chocolate lovers panicked at such news. But Dismislab’s factchecking found some claims to be misleading and some even false.

How the claim spread

Over the past few years, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and some Bengali websites have circulated two claims regarding chocolate and cockroaches.

The first claim goes, “Chocolates have cockroaches in them. Any 100g chocolate bar has body parts of as many as 60 cockroaches.” This was shared in February this year on an educational Facebook page with over 50,000 followers. The admins of the page also run a group of science facts. The post was shared 25 times with over 200 comments.

The second claim goes, “Many believe small cockroach bits increase the nutritional value of chocolates. So, the FDA has approved using insects in chocolates.” This claim was also found on a popular science-based Facebook page and its website. The post, published on 9 February 2022, was shared 43 times getting reactions from over a thousand users. The same claim was found in a video on a science-based YouTube channel.

Searching for the source of these two claims regarding cockroaches and chocolates, Dismislab found that the oldest Bengali source of this claim on the internet is a science blog site called Bigyanjatra. The article published on 16 October 2015 was titled, cholun, telapokar preme pori (which translates to ‘Let’s fall in love with cockroaches’).

A section of the article reads, “If you heard that not just these but all chocolate brands have body parts of more or less 60 cockroaches in every 100g of chocolate, then? Ha ha ha! Not to worry! It is no big deal. According to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, it is safe to have parts of up to 60 insects in a 100g chocolate bar.”

Fact-check

First, there is no evidence to support the claim on the Facebook page, 29 Hatman House, that chocolates have cockroach bits and that there are parts of as many as 60 cockroaches in every 100g of chocolate bar of any brand. Neither does the page cite any sources to back this up.

The words “100g of chocolate” and “more than 60 bugs” originally come from a US Food and Drug Administration directive. Titled “CPG Sec. 515.700 Chocolate & Chocolate Liquor – Adulteration with Insect and Rodent Filth” the FDA directive was added to the article published in Bigyanjatra. The FDA directive was also cited in a December 2020 report on the website sciencebee.com.bd.

According to the FDA guideline, any 100g sample of chocolate with more than 60 insect fragments should be considered ‘adulterated’ and seized. The FDA did not authorise use of cockroaches or any other insects in chocolates. On the contrary, the FDA provided a maximum threshold of insect fragments that would lead to seizure.

A misleading claim spread in the United States in 2021 since many people have allergic reactions to chocolates and thought it was because of cockroach parts. Several US outlets, including USA Today and Lead Stories, had ascertained the claim as ‘false’ at that time.

USA Today reported on 3 November 2021 that FDA spokesperson Veronika Pfaeffle said the food and drug regulator had not found cockroach infestations to be common in cocoa beans.

“Through FDA’s extensive sampling of cocoa beans for insect infestation, we have not found this product to be particularly attractive to cockroaches,” Pfaeffle said.

Of its three categories of food-contaminating insects, the FDA only considers “incidental pests” non-hazardous to human health at certain levels. Cockroaches are not considered incidental pests, Pfaeffle said.

“The FDA set these action levels because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” the FDA’s Food Defect Levels Handbook reads. “Products harmful to consumers are subject to regulatory action whether or not they exceed the action levels.”

USA Today went on to quote Pfaeffle, “Food manufacturing facilities are required to take measures to keep cockroaches and other pests away from food.” The FDA can seize products or enforce other regulatory actions if a food facility is infested with insects such as cockroaches, according to regulations.

The same claim about chocolates went viral in India in 2021. Indian fact-checking outlets, Newschecker and BoomLive, verified and debunked the claim that FDA standards allowed up to 4g of cockroach parts in every 100g of chocolate. Food standards regulator, the Food Safety and Quality Control Authority of India (FSSAI) notified on its website and YouTube channel saying that the claim was false.