Insects for Food Use Is Permitted by Enforcement Discretion in U.S.

If cricket powder does not have a GRAS dossier for food use, why haven’t the regulators cracked down on the industry? I believe the answer lies in ‘enforcement discretion’.

A well know example of enforcement discretion is driving above the speed limit. Enforcement discretion can occur across the regulatory landscape and is an inherent component of regulatory policy. We know that the FDA uses enforcement discretion as one of its tools: Policy Regarding Certain Entities…

U.S. Food Control System

The FDA has only commented with informal policy on the use of insects as food. Informal Policy and Guidance’s describe the Agency’s current thinking on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations, unless specific regulatory or statutory requirements are cited.  The use of the word ‘should’ in Agency guidance’s means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required.

However, edible insects are regulated in the same manner as any other food per the FDA informal policy.

When insects are added to processed food (used as an ingredient), insects are subject to food additive regulations which are managed by Generally Recognition of Safety (GRAS).

The routes to make a GRAS determination are 1) self-determination, 2) FDA Notification with ‘No Questions’ response.  The scientific and technical standards for GRAS are extremely high regardless if it is a self-determination or if the GRAS notice has been reviewed by the FDA. For example, the Pea Protein Notification below is 57 pages long, contains 6 parts and 15 tables.

 GRAS Notification – Pea Protein

 FDA Response – Pea Protein

There is not an edible insect GRAS notification on file with the FDA. Private entities with a GRAS dossier on file would likely not pass FDA review due to the stringent scientific requirements. GRAS dossiers are typically created by 3rd party law consultants.

Regulatory bodies could be using a few reasons for enforcement discretion.

  1. Population intake of edible insects is low; therefore, risk is also low.
  2. There is currently no evidence of people being harmed by consuming insects.
  3. State and local regulators don’t have the technical capability to enforce GRAS compliance.

The current situation would change if there is evidence that consumer is being harmed by edible insects. The FDA has removed the GRAS status for Partially Hydrogenated Oil as the research has shown that the ingredient is harmful. A higher levels of insect consumption could trigger regulatory action. However, this is likely not happening soon. And by the time intake is significant, the industry would hopefully be able to create a sufficient GRAS dossier that would hold up to scrutiny.

There may also be a different interpretation of the definition of Food Additive. My interpretation is that any ingredient, including whole foods, added to food is a food additive. So even onion powder needs a GRAS dossier? The Food Additives Status List omits ‘obviously safe substances’. Wholes foods such as onion powder would be considered an obviously safe substance and would not need to be on an approved GRAS list. The Food Additives Status List mostly includes ingredients that have a specific technical function. And example of an omitted ingredient would be pumpkin seeds. The argument is that Cricket Powder doesn’t need to be on an approved ingredient list and doesn’t need a GRAS dossier.

Depending on the audience and situation, maybe a different response on food safety and regulation would be warranted.

“Crickets are considered food under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. Cricket powder is an obviously safe food is it contributes a complete protein to the diet and is not injurious to health.”

2nd International “Insects to Feed the World” Conference

The 2nd International “Insects to Feed the World” Conference is coming up May 15th 2018 in China.

Insects to Feed the World

Fortunately, for those who cant make it, the abstracts have been published in advance.


My takeaway from the abstracts:

  • Consumer adoption of insects as food in the West has not taken off. Keynote 14.
  • Black soldier fly larvae may be the gateway bug. Farming systems are much more developed; many avenues for feed applications. Session 2 – Farming.
  • More applications for insect as feed – black solider fly larvae modulating turkey behavior. Session 7.6.
  • Insects as food and feed to not address underlying economic/cultural causes of food insecurity. Session 12.6.


Edible Insects Added to Import Prior List

The FDA has added ‘Edible Insects and Insect-Derived Foods’ as an industry on in the Product Code Builder used for importing food. It also includes 100s of different products ranging from chocolate covered crickets to whole may beetles to insect soup.

What is Import Prior

The FDA requires prior notification of any foods (and other FDA regulated items) being imported into the U.S. –  FDA Import Prior. Importers are required to complete a form that includes product details prior to shipping.

Insight on current thinking of the FDA

FDA acknowledgment of edible insect as food! The FDA controls the code list per conversation with FDA Imports (regulatory specialists). The FDA added all the 200+ products to the system. It lists not only familiar insect for American consumer such as crickets and meal worms but lists 100+ different species.

Example code for Sal de Cricket

I completed the tutorial for Sal de Cricket… If it was going to be made outside the U.S. and imported, the code would be ‘42 Q C H 99’.

product code builder edible insects fda prior import notice sal de cricket

Code Builder Link:

Parent Link:


Let me know if you have had success or challenges importing insect for food or feed. I am interested in hearing your story!

Cricket Bacon Bits – Recipe

Most everyone loves the taste of bacon. Salty, savory with a hint of smoke. This version has less fat, more protein and is more sustainable.

Compared to traditional dry roasted crickets that are not seasoned, the addition of salt alone dramatically increases palatability. Brining prior to cooking can potentially improve texture and durability.

Cricket Sourcing

Buy crickets raised for food use (or raise your own). If pet feed crickets are selected, keep the crickets alive for a few days, feeding them food of your choice to purge their system.

In this case, I bought crickets from a nearby pet store. This was not the most cost consciousness choice as the crickets were 10 cents each. Also, buying at the pet store is not the best option as we don’t exactly know what they are being fed. I fed the crickets corn meal and a piece of fruit for a day prior to harvesting.


Transfer the live crickets to another container, weeding out the dead ones, then put them in the freezer.

Bacon Brine

This brine was loosely taken from some online recipes.

Mix the brine and cover frozen raw crickets. Refrigerate for 6 – 24 hrs.

55.5% Water

2% Salt

1.25% Sugar

0.25% Curing Salt

1 – 2 % Liquid Smoke (leave out if actually smoking)

40% Crickets, Raw Frozen, Rinsed


Due to having a high surface area to volume ratio, this cooking method is similar to making jerky.

Drain the crickets and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheets.

Pre-heat oven. Bake for at 250F for 10 minutes. This step fully cooks the crickets. The internal temperature will get above 165F with in 10 minutes.

Set oven to 175F and dehydrate for 2 – 4 hour or until the crickets are dry and crunchy/crumbly.

Store in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

Recommended Use

Cobb Salad traditionally calls for crumbled bacon. Cricket bacon bits will be a great substitute.

Tasting Notes

This version of cricket bacon has a similar appearance and texture compared to dry roasted crickets.

The flavor is very mild and brothy with very minimal cricket-flavor. This batch was not very smoky in flavor. The palatability is dramatically improved with a salty and slightly sweet taste.

Recommendations for recipe changes

Adjust the temperature and time of the dehydration step to result in a more chewy cricket. If the crickets still have moisture, they may not be shelf stable.

Cook with a source of fat to achieve a more bacon like mouthfeel (bacon has a lot of fat).