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What is the average number of insects and spiders humans eat unaware? originally appeared on Quora – the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
In terms of creatures that crawl into your mouth while you sleep … likely zero. Insects are not that stupid. They will not crawl into the warm, moist, CO2-exhaling cave that is pretty obviously the entrance to something big and living. Granted, some insects like roaches do occasionally crawl into ears and get stuck, but that’s very rare. The idea that we swallow a certain number of spiders every lifetime/year/night is just an urban legend.
What about in our food? That’s a different issue. Because crops are almost always infested with insects, the harvests will usually have pieces of insect too. The amount of insecticides or controls you would need to keep a farm 100% insect free is so high that it would cost more to control the insects than one would get from selling the crops. Plus, at certain levels, the damage from insects is not even noticed. That’s why farmers don’t control insect pests unless the infestation crosses the economic threshold. This is the population level (number of insects per acre or per plant, etc.) where the cost of controlling the infestation is less than the losses if you let the infestation get any worse … and even then the farmers only control until the population is below the threshold, not at zero.
The point is, crops will always have insects on them, no matter where they came from or how they were grown, so whatever you buy at the store or market, especially processed food, will have teeny tiny quantities of insect parts. These are harmless to humans—insects are edible, after all—but still don’t belong, so regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration place limits on how many insect parts different food items can have. These are the Food Defect Action Levels, for “Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans” (
These levels are a maximum; most food sold will be far less contaminated. So, assuming the food you ate was as defective as possible, you may have eaten enough parts to make a few whole insects … but you’d have never noticed, and it would all be extra protein anyway.