"Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup?"
"Transmitting bacteria, sir."
This gross response doesn't make a great punchline (nor will it earn anybody a big tip), but it is the truth. But why is that fly just sitting—or swimming—there? And is the soup still safe to eat? If you really want to know, gird yourself and read on.
The common house fly (Musca domestica) has no venom, no stinger, and no fangs. It finds its food in a peaceful way—by rolling around in other animals' waste and garbage. With no teeth, the fly requires a liquid diet. This would be a problem, since a lot of food is solid, but the fly has a disgusting workaround: It spits and pukes on its meal. Compounds in its saliva and bile break down the food, making it as slurpable as a smoothie.
As the fly eats, it's usually also pooping—and if it's female, possibly laying eggs as well. Flies really are an absolute bonanza of disgustingness.
All of this would be gross, but ultimately harmless, if flies only ate soup. But they're opportunists. They eat rotting garbage and they eat animal feces, and in doing so they consume loads of pathogens.
"House flies are the movers of any disgusting pathogenic microorganism you can think of," Jeff Scott, an entomologist at Cornell University, told the Daily Mail. "Anything that comes out of an animal, such as bacteria and viruses, house flies can take from that waste and deposit on your sandwich."
Experts estimate that adult houseflies can transmit more than 100 different diseases and parasites, from Salmonella and tuberculosis to tapeworms.
Does this mean we should immediately throw out any food a fly has touched? Probably.
According to research initiated at Penn State Eberly College of Science and in collaboration with the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and other international institutions , houseflies tend to harbor pathogens on their legs, meaning even a brief touchdown on your tuna melt could very conceivably transmit any number of worrisome bacteria in an instant. It's better to keep picnic foods sealed until they're needed or to ask for a new dish if your local restaurant has any unsolicited, winged guests lurking around.
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