Jensen Karp had bought the jumbo box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch from Costco on Saturday. He opened the first of its two bags on Monday to begin his usual breakfast ritual: handing out a few tiny squares to his nearly 2-year-old son, Alder, to eat like cookies. Except on this particular morning, the child was AWOL, so Karp spooned down a small bowl of cereal by himself.
Karp says he started to pour himself a second bowl when he noticed an anomaly tucked among the sweetened little flats of Cinnamon Toast Crunch: shrimp tails. Not the discarded shrimp tails that you might find around a shrimp cocktail platter, but dehydrated pieces of crustacean shell coated in what appears to be sugar and cinnamon.
Ummmm @CTCSquares - why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit) pic.twitter.com/tTjiAdrnVp— Jensen Karp (@JensenKarp) March 22, 2021
“I thought it had something to do with me,” Karp said in an interview with The Washington Post, swearing that this wasn’t some Twitter prank. “Then when I looked back into the box and saw another one, I was like, ‘This is bonkers!’ I thought it was sort of funny. I kind of thought of it as Twitter fodder, or whatever, for a second.”
Before he took to Twitter, though, Karp, 41, said he contacted General Mills, the company behind Cinnamon Toast Crunch, to tell it what he had found. The Los Angeles resident did so out of courtesy, but also because he’s a longtime fan of the cereal. Before he became a writer, with a serious collection of comedy credits, he was just another boy with a crush on Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
“It’s literally the only cereal I eat!” Karp noted. He said he even owns a pair of basketball star Kyrie Irving’s “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” Kyrie 4 shoes.
Karp said he provided General Mills with his phone number, address and where he bought the cereal, among other details. He said he never heard back. (A spokesman for General Mills would not confirm that Karp had contacted the company before his tweetstorm.)
But the folks behind Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s Twitter account started to provide information on the public platform.
“After further investigation with our team that closely examined the image, it appears to be an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended. We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp,” the Crunch crew tweeted.
Ok, we’ll after further investigation with my eyes, these are cinnamon coated SHRIMP TAILS, you weirdos. I wasn’t all that mad until you now tried to gaslight me? https://t.co/7DmADmoqUt pic.twitter.com/rSLE60pvoy— Jensen Karp (@JensenKarp) March 22, 2021
“That’s what infuriated me because I was like, ‘There’s is no doubt. I mean, there’s literally zero doubt in the world that these are shrimp tails,’ ” Karp said. “That’s where everything escalated.”
At the encouragement of a friend, Karp went back through the cereal bag to see what else he might find. What he discovered “dumbfounded” him: a length of string, something that looked like a sugarcoated pistachio, more shrimp tails, even Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares with little “black things” apparently baked into them.
When Karp’s wife, actor Danielle Fishel Karp, came home, she suggested that they open the second bag of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which is when they found something suspicious: The bag looked like it was taped shut, suggesting it had been tampered with. There was something that looked like dental floss in the second bag.
UPDATE: my wife has a stronger stomach than me and checked the OTHER bag in the family pack. This one seems taped up (?) and also appears to include...(I don’t even want to say it)...dental floss. pic.twitter.com/yKPkpx7PWq— Jensen Karp (@JensenKarp) March 23, 2021
Karp didn’t know if the first bag had tape on it, too. He said it might have. Karp said the box wasn’t opened when he bought it. “There’s no way I’d know if it was like glued or something,” he noted. “Because like who would look for that when opening?”
The appearance of tape was evidence to General Mills that the problem lay outside its manufacturing plants.
“While we are still investigating this matter, we can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility,” said Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for General Mills. “We are waiting for the consumer to send us the package to investigate further. Any consumers who notice their cereal box or bag has been tampered with, such as the clear tape that was found in this case, should contact us.”
Karp said he’s open to sending General Mills some of the flotsam he found, but he’s also keeping a few pieces to test on his own. He had called a national poison control hot line on Monday after worrying over a theory that someone had suggested: that the detritus in the bag could be evidence of rodent contamination. And that black stuff apparently baked into the Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Karp feared it might be rat poop.
If they are rat droppings, Karp said, he’s at risk of infection within 48 hours. So far, he said, he feels fine. He’s just grateful his son didn’t eat any of the cereal. “I feel kind of sick mentally, but I’m not sick physically,” he said.
Because it’s impossible to keep all contaminants out of the food production and processing chain, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established the “maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard.” They include small amounts of rodent hair, insect “fragments,” mold and other “defects.”
But the Cinnamon Toast Crunch issue, Karp said, goes beyond any potential rodent filth. Costco promotes the cereal with the designation, “kosher dairy equipment,” a term that has its own rules affiliated with it. But as Karp pointed out, the presence of shellfish no longer makes the cereal kosher. But the shrimp tails, he added, could also trigger severe reactions from those who are allergic to shellfish.
Karp has received pushback from those who believe the Cinnamon Toast Crunch controversy might be just another comedy sketch from the writer. But he flatly denies the charge.
“I deal with things through comedy,” he said. “When my dad died, I made jokes. You know, that doesn’t mean anything. My thing is that I would have let this go if their response was fine. I don’t really care that much. I don’t need to go viral for having … shrimp tails in my food. I don’t want to have to go to poison control. I don’t want to have to think about eating rat poop. These are not things that I find fun. I mean, at this point now I just want to take care of it because there could be other ones out there.
“This would have not been a story had they not said it was sugar,” he added.
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