How Did Shrimp Tails & Other Disgusting Items End Up In Cinnamon Toast Crunch? An Investigation

Photo: Jennifer White Maxwell / Shutterstock.com
cinnamon toast crunch cereal

Comedian, writer, producer and podcast host Jensen Karp launched a viral feud on Twitter with the makers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch after making a disgusting discovery in a box of their cereal.

General Mills calls their Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal “a good way to start your day,” but for Karp, this promise proved worse than false.

Karp, who is married to actress Danielle Fischel (Topanga on "Boy Meets World"), was chowing down on some of the sweet cereal on Monday, March 22nd, when he noticed something unexpected at the bottom of the box — what appeared to be cinnamon sugar-coated shrimp tails.

Disturbed by the discovery, Karp took to Twitter to demand answers from the cereal’s manufacturer, sharing a photo of his fishy findings he says were nestled amongst the crunchy cinnamon squares.

“Ummmm… why are there shrimp tails in my cereal?” Karp wrote, tagging the official Cinnamon Toast Crunch Twitter account and clarifying that the question was “not a bit” for the sake of comedy but a very real and exceptionally disturbing question.

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The drama got more dramatic following the company's initial response, which Karp deemed seriously deficient.

The Cinnamon Toast Crunch Twitter account denied his identification of the objects as shrimp trails and instead claimed they were simply “an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren't thoroughly blended.”

The company sought to assure the complaining consumer that there was “no possibility of cross-contamination with shrimp” in their cereal’s manufacturing process.

Frustrated by the dismissal of his concerns, Karp continued to probe further, as did others who caught wind of the story.

"As a Chef, I can identify cooked shrimp," wrote someone identified only as The Pillsbury E-Boi. "These were baked under dry heat, then coated with cinnamon sugar while still hot causing the sugar to coat it, but not lose the crystaline structure as evidenced in this zoomed in picture. Your team is covering it's collective butts."

“After further investigation with my eyes,” Karp himself replied in a post that included two pictures of the alleged shrimp tails in the palm of his hand, “these are cinnamon coated SHRIMP TAILS, you weirdos."

“I wasn’t all that mad until you now tried to gaslight me,” Karp stated.

The indignant man was motivated to search through the cereal again, and the results were somehow even more shocking.

Upon further inspection, Karp found more strange items, including a piece of string and a number of small black flecks, which someone identified as potentially being rat droppings, baked into some of the cinnamon squares.

His wife then examined a second bag of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that was included in the same family pack of the cereal they'd purchased at Costco, only to find it appeared to have been taped up and contained what Karp guessed was “dental floss.”

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How could shrimp tails and other various disgusting items have made their way into a box (or boxes) of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Karp’s numerous tweets about the incident have amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and widespread interest from concerned Twitter citizens. Replies to the saga have included horrified reactions and shudder-inducing theories about potential sources of the extra "ingredients."

The Pillsbury E-boi may have the answer.

Posting a screenshot from a YouTube video showing how Cinnamon Toast Crunch is made, he explained, "The chute is wide open. Conceivably, and (sic) employee feeling snackish, could be standing right there eating shrimp and accidentally dropping a tail or two right where hot cereal is about to be coated."

Watch the video he is referring to below to see for yourself.

Regardless of how they got there, the type, size and quantity of assorted contents found in Karp's cereal box — which, to summarize, he says include what appears to be shrimp tails, string, dental floss, a pistachio nut and black spot that could be rat feces — may be in violation of federal food safety regulations.

The US Food and Drug Administration allows for certain amounts of natural or unavoidable defects in foods, as long as they “present no health hazards for humans.”

For example, ground cinnamon on its own can contain up to 400 insect fragments and 11 rodent hairs per 50 grams.

Other permissible contaminants in canned, frozen, and dried foods include certain levels of mold and animal waste.

According to food safety expert Ben Chapman, impurities like these are typically pretty harmless.

“I look at it as a yuck factor versus a risk factor,” Chapman told CNN. “Insect parts are gross, but they don’t lead to foodborne illnesses.”

If a food product does not have a set limit for certain contaminants, as with boxed cereal, the FDA reports that they evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis and decide whether or not to take action. Criteria for such assessments include the size, amount, and variety of the “filth and extraneous materials” found in the product.

Karp’s box includes what seems to be a visibly large amount of trash and potential fecal matter — which we imagine could potentially rise above the minimal quantities of insect parts allowed by the FDA's safety standards.

Furthermore, rodent feces, which Karp believes to have been present in the cereal, has indeed been linked to multiple food-borne illnesses.

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Throughout the day, Karp continued to document his story, airing his dissatisfaction with the company’s response along the way.

At one point, he tweeted a photo of the offending cereal box, which had been marked with several sticky notes reading “do not eat” in all caps. He also shared that he was taking his box of the cereal to be tested in a lab, and was subsequently referred to pest control for further investigation.

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Karp, who says he reached out the company via email but received no response before sharing what he'd found on Twitter, also shared screenshots of direct messages he exchanged with whoever runs the Cinnamon Toast Crunch account.

In their DMs, the company asks to have the items and the cereal box in which they were found picked up from Karp by FedEx. Karp declined their request, calling the company’s conduct “sketchy” and “odd.”

The company followed up with Karp via email, asking him to hand the box over to law enforcement, as there may be evidence of "product tampering."

Karp explained why he was making such a big deal out of the story.

“My point is,” he wrote, “their initial reaction to shellfish being in the bag was to tell me it was sugar. Not to investigate the issue or look into it. It’s a deadly allergy to many (and non-Kosher) and that didn’t seem to matter beyond offering me a new box."

Karp told TMZ Live he hopes the product, which also contained what appeared to be a pistachio nut — another potentially deadly allergen, was tampered with after leaving the factory, as that problem would have “the most contained, easy way to solve this Nancy Drew mystery.”

However, he points out, product tampering is unlikely to be the only answer, "the issue still being that some of the squares have something cooked onto them. So you would be looking at like a two-pronged problem."

Whatever the findings of any investigations uncover, Karp revealed that, although it was a huge fan he has now been turned off of Cinnamon Toast Crunch forever.

“I will never eat it again,” Karp said.

The Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp tails incident remains under investigation at this time.

For their part, the company pinned a statement to their Twttier account in which they continue to deny responsibility for the shellfish and assorted items making their way into their packaging.

"While we are still investigating this matter, we can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility. We are waiting for the consumer to send us the package to investigate further."

Late yesterday, Karp shared that "a Carcinologist (crustacean researcher) that works at NHMLA is going to morphologically identify the shrimp using microscopy and he will work with a team of researchers to use DNA to try and identify the putative shrimp down to species."

Karp says that while he will not spend today posting about the matter, he is not backing down.

"No real update and I’m not posting about this [BS] all day again," he wrote. "Waiting for the envelope I agreed on from General Mills to send them back pieces and some of a shrimp tail will leave home for DNA testing at Noon. They grow up so fast."

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Allie McGlone is a writer who covers a variety of topics for YourTango, including pop culture and entertainment.