Food recalls: Some of the weird stuff that ends up in what we eat

You are what you eat, but knowledge of some of the odd -- and sometimes dangerous -- things that get into food these days might just put a lid on your appetite.

For companies, the stakes are legal, financial and reputational. The average cost of a major product recall for food and beverage industry businesses approaches $10 million, according to Allianz. Meanwhile, more than a third of the 440 recalls of FDA and USDA regulated food products last year had the potential to cause serious illness, injury or even death. Social media raises the stakes even higher, with consumers quick to post images of offending items that can tarnish brands for years.

Take McCain Foods, the company behind a massive recall of premade salads and meals. The Canadian frozen-food conglomerate's U.S. unit had to pull hash browns off store shelves last year because some packages contained a hazardous ingredient: golf balls. The company explained that the balls "may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product." 

Tainted dip

Already confronted with alarming headlines about pesticides in cereal and microplastics in sea salts and bottled water, consumers have recently been contending with a slew of recalls related to products possibly tainted with salmonella or potentially botulism, as in the July recall by Kraft Heinz involving Taco Bell cheese dip.

But bacteria and parasites aren't the only unintended ingredients that end up in what we eat. Just last month, Ohio's Bob Evans Farms recalled more than 23 tons of pork sausage links possibly contaminated with pieces of clear, hard plastic. At roughly the same time, the discovery of sewing needles in half-dozen brands of strawberries sold in four Australian states prompted police investigations in that country.

Strange things are discovered in food on a regular basis, and unless it's salmonella or other bacteria that can cause outbreaks and need to be contained, consumers often never learn how the unintended ingredient was added. For example, Oklahoma's OK Food recalled more than 900,000 pounds of breaded chicken products only the month before the recall related to golf balls. The company cited potential contamination with extraneous materials, "specifically metal." 

A Pennsylvania woman three years ago found a black widow spider in a pack of grapes in an incident that wasn't the first of its kind. A Michigan couple reportedly found a dead frog in a bag of frozen vegetables in 2010, the same year a British man discovered the remains of a mouse baked into a loaf of bread.

Finger food

And then there's the occasional finger part that winds up in some unfortunate consumer's fast-food sandwich or burger, usually the result of an accident in the kitchen. Noteworthy finger-food cases include one in 2012 involving an Arby's worker, a meat slicer and a roast beef sandwich in Michigan. 

Or the California prisoner who reached a confidential monetary settlement with GA Food Services in 2006 after the company acknowledged an employee's finger tip had inadvertently made its way into cornbread served to the inmate, a vegetarian.  

The same year, a TGI Friday's worker in Indiana cut himself readying a burger, but didn't realize he had lost part of his finger until taken to a hospital. In the meantime, a colleague served a burger with the injured worker's flesh on it, an addition that was noticed by its recipient, who called police. 

Also unappetizing: PepsiCo's defense in a lawsuit filed by an Illinois man who claimed he found a dead mouse in a can of Mountain Dew, which sparked unwanted headlines for the company in 2012. Experts called by PepsiCo explained the allegations couldn't be true because the Mountain Dew would have dissolved the critter, turning it into a "jelly-like substance," had it been in the soft drink from when it was bottled until the day it was opened, 15 months later. 

None of this, by the way, takes into account the government's acceptable limits for mouse droppings, insects and other stomach-turning additions to what we eat.