Essence of Toad? Amphibian Found in Diet Pepsi

Florida man's soda is one example of surprise ingredients found in some foods.

ByABC News
September 4, 2009, 4:55 PM

Sept. 5, 2009 — -- Ready to grill dinner recently for himself and his wife, Fred DeNegri, 55, popped a can of Diet Pepsi to sip while he cooked. But one swig of the cola was enough to put him off his meal.

"At the time, I asked him and he couldn't even describe [the taste]," said Fred's wife, Amy DeNegri, 54, of Ormond Beach, Fla. "He said, 'I've never tasted anything so awful in my life.'"

Dumping the liquid, the couple said, they discovered a small animal macerating in the can. Testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that the animal was either a frog or a toad, although the agency found no connection to the Pepsi plant where the soda was bottled.

"I would have been throwing up," Amy DeNegri said, if she had been the one drinking the soda.

While the DeNegri's amphibian-infused soda sounds like the stuff of urban legends, in reality, such transgressions can occur. And while these incidents may not occur often or pose significant health risks, the ick factor can be through the roof.

"What's a challenge with this is that lots of bottling plants and lots of processing plants have rather frequent problems with animals getting into their production facility," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. "This is one of many examples of why you need a quality control system that works virtually all the time."

A Virginia woman made headlines in 2000 for finding a whole, fried chicken head in a box of McDonald's chicken wings. Another woman from California was dining at McCormick and Schmick's, a seafood chain, when she found a condom in her clam chowder.

Gastronomic flukes can cause significant emotional distress, but they rarely result in poor health consequences. Cola, for example, is too acidic to support most harmful bacteria.

"With soda, it's low pH, it's carbonated, and kills most pathogens to be concerned about, so there's not much of a [health] risk," said Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona.

Indeed, there is greater risk associated with poor food preparation, or from fresh foods that are stored where insects and rodents can access them compared with highly processed foods.