On Valentine’s Day, No Chocolates for Swara Bhaskar, Says Her Dad

Why won’t Swara’s dad let her open chocolate boxes from admirers? Because chocs contain insect poop. Yes. It’s True.

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Dear Swara,

I had not planned to write an open letter to you... that is more your domain... but have been prevailed upon by a ‘wily’ editor at The Quint.

I know you often think that I am a compulsive woody-wood-pecker (WWP), offering unsolicited advice to you and your esteemed sibling – and yes, I plead guilty. This is a cross that many parents bear in a stoic manner, especially when the nest is empty... as it were.

The trigger for this missive is that I had gone to see the doctor about my persistent breathing / blocked nose allergy, and in the course of my chat, I made a rather ‘yucky’ but important discovery about allergies and chocolates.

An Unsavoury Truth

Let me give it to you in a pithy manner – with apologies for apprising you of this ‘yucky’ truth on the eve of  Valentine’s Day. Most chocolates that are sold globally, including the biggest names (some of which you may receive from admirers today), contain cockroach residue along with other insect fragments.  Yes.... ugh...! More so when I recall our sinful indulgence with Nino at Mount Abu over the New Year.

My reason for this exploration is that the doctor informed me that in many cases, the cockroach residue in the chocolate can induce asthma and related bronchial discomfort – and that many parents / adults are not aware of this fact.

Given the way in which a box of chocolates has become THE gift to to be given on various occasions, I felt that I must bring this unsavoury detail to your notice and to the other members in the extended circle of family and friends. Chocolate cakes, lavishly prepared with oodles of love and affection for birthdays / wedding anniversaries will alas, fall into this category too.

What About Chocolate Is Making Your Allergies Flare Up?

Like most of us, I did a search on the web (when in doubt) to validate what the doctor had told me about my allergy, and here is a quote from a US-based media outlet (2012): “Most people who are allergic to chocolate aren't having a reaction to cocoa or any of chocolate's other official ingredients. No, the flare ups are most likely triggered by the ground-up cockroach parts that contaminate every batch.”

According to ABC News, the average chocolate bar contains eight insect parts. Anything less than 60 insect pieces per 100 grams of chocolate (two chocolate bars’ worth) is deemed safe for consumption by the Food and Drug Administration.

Well, the plot (cocoa ?) thickens – apparently there is an inherent attraction for insects when the cocoa beans are roasted in huge vats and then sugar / cream / flavour is added to make it that delicious mix which we all enjoy and some crave for. During that process of making the chocolate mix – cockroaches and other  tiny insects fall into the vats, or at other points in the manufacturing process – despite all the checks and hygiene protocols. According to this research paper, “Cockroaches are a potential source of bacteria pathogens with multi-drug resistant strains and hence, effective preventive and control measures are required to minimize cockroach-related infections.”

Accepted Bits of ‘Roaches in Your Chocolate

This matter was earlier noted in the 1970’s and some kind of regulation was proposed to ensure citizen health. The chocolate manufacturers – the big boys at the time – approached the US government – and prevailed upon the relevant authorities to accept the ‘yucky’ reality – that some level of insect residue in chocolates was inevitable.

Thus, the US regulation (the subject going back to the mid 1980s) reads as follows:

“Chocolate & Chocolate Liquor - Adulteration with Insect and Rodent Filth REGULATORY ACTION GUIDANCE:

The following represents criteria for direct reference seizure *requests to the Office of Human and Animal Food Operations (OHAFO) in consultation with the Office of Enforcement and Import Operations (OEIO) and CFSAN, and for direct citation by the appropriate Field Office within the Human and Animal Food Program*: 1. Insect Filth a. The chocolate in six (6) 100 gram subsamples contains an average of 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams. or b. Any one subsample contains 90 or more insect fragments, even if the overall average of all the subsamples is less than 60. 2. Rodent Filth a. The chocolate in six (6) 100 gram subsamples contains an average of more than 1.0 rodent hair per 100 grams, regardless of the size of the hairs or hair fragments.”

If you can wade through the detail, what it means is that every chocolate bar of 100 grams can have up to 60 or less insect fragments, and you can see the rodent reference too. The classification is unambiguous – FILTH.

Insect droppings / fragments aside, rat droppings also find their way into most processed foods, and chocolates are no exception.

Dark (Chocolate) Propaganda

But, as this article in The Guardian claims, “... new research from Switzerland and Germany may have found out how to persuade people to eat insects – and it could have a huge impact on lowering human-led carbon emissions.”

Now, now, is this a ploy by the Swiss – arguably the best chocolatiers – to get us accustomed to eating insects without feeling squeamish? After all, chocolate-coated everything is irresistible!

The chocolate industry is notorious for investing heavily in research that may give them a thumbs up. As this piece in The Guardian says, it’s the chocolate manufacturers who are brainwashing us into making a lifelong commitment to chocolate by presenting us with its health ‘benefits’. Studies funded by the chocolate companies have “generated hundreds of media reports that exaggerate their findings, and omit key details and caveats.”

Well, this is not the best way to usher in  Valentines’s Day – but there you are. Bitter truth, or ‘roachy’ reality ?

Dad aka WWP

(The writer is a leading expert on strategic affairs. He is currently Director, Society for Policy Studies. He is also actor Swara Bhaskar’s father. This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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