Cockroach Egg Tacos / Burritos at Taco Bell

From the Mailbag

Cockroaches. Martin Harvey/Getty Images

FULL DISCLOSURE: While conducting research for this article, the author dined at a Taco Bell restaurant in San Francisco, California — not for information-gathering purposes, mind you, but because he was hungry. He is pleased (and in no small measure relieved) to report that no ill effects were noted during or after consumption of the shockingly inexpensive meal.


Dear Urban Legends:

There is a very strange rumor going around the Youngstown, Ohio area about Taco Bell being infested with cockroaches. Here's the story as I heard it:

One of my friend's cousin's friends (of course you've got the dog in there somewhere, too) went to a local Taco Bell and ate what, I don't know. But supposedly the next day her gums swelled up and she called her dentist. He asked her where she ate and she told him. He told her to come in as soon as possible. She got there and there were cockroach eggs in her gums. He then contacted the local police department and they went to the Taco Bell and found live and dead cockroaches in the meat.

Now let me tell you that:

1. The Taco Bell location was not closed down.

2. There was nothing in the news or local paper about it (and you know the media loves that kind of stuff).

3. The Taco Bell restaurant where it supposedly happened is now (in 1998) being torn down to be replaced by one of those Taco Bell/KFC deals.

It seems like a hoax to me. I'm thinking that the people around here are so bored with their lives they have to do something to liven them up. My question to you is, is this the only time you've heard of this, or is it going around other areas too?

 

Dear Reader:

Thank you for asking. As a matter of fact, I hadn't heard this story until you passed it along just now, but a bit of Googling reveals that similar reports have been popping up all over the United States since the beginning of 1998.

The two earliest variants I found, set in Boone, North Carolina, were recorded in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup in March of that year:

Example #1:

Someone ate at Taco Bell, had a sore throat the next day, went to the doctor and they discovered spider eggs in her throat.

Example #2:

Someone ate at Taco Bell, had a sore throat the next day, went to the doctor. The doctor said "We have to do surgery immediately." Turns out there were roach larvae eating her cheeks from the inside out.

Three months later in June, another version was reported by someone in San Jose, California. The informant supplied a wealth of appetizing details, the specific menu items consumed by the victim and the exact location of the restaurant.

Example #3:

My friend at work told me that just last week a girl ate at the Taco Bell on Camden/Kooser and she had three bean burritos. The next day she woke up and her throat was bleeding inside. She was rushed to the hospital for four hours of surgery because her whole body was infected with cockroach eggs. They went back to that Taco Bell and the entire place was infected with cockroach eggs. Supposedly the acid in your stomach would normally kill the cockroach stuff, but it got into this girl’s intestine and spread.

And then there was the following variant reported on October 20, no location specified. Note that in this case the victim's gums are said to have been bleeding, not her throat.

Note, too, that the victim was the daughter of a friend of a coworker of the informant.

Example #4

Someone here at work told me the following story: The daughter of a friend is attending college. She is working part time to help pay her tuition. Her gums begin to bleed even when she isn't brushing her teeth so she goes to the dentist. The dentist asks her what she has been eating. She tells him she eats at Taco Bell frequently. At this point the dentist tells her that her gums have a "cockroach egg" infestation and that is why they are bleeding. The dentist also tells her it is from eating at Taco Bell.

By mid-November 1998, our burgeoning urban legend had received the full dramatic treatment in an anonymous email forwarded to and from Internet users all across the United States. Apart from the implication that the alleged incident took place in San Francisco, the outline of the story remained the same.

Which brings us to the question, how credible is this story?

The answer, giving due consideration to the known facts about cockroach reproduction and human physiology, as well as practical questions concerning the method by which these infestations allegedly took place, is that it is scarcely credible at all.

Its validity presupposes the likelihood that:

1. One or more pregnant roaches landed in a batch of chicken meat and remained there undetected by food service workers;

2. The roach — or, at minimum, her egg capsule (called an "ootheca") — survived the standard 140-degree (F.) heat of the steam table;

3. The roach's crunchy body was not seen, tasted or otherwise detected by the customer who allegedly ate it;

4. The egg capsule wasn't swallowed intact, but instead ruptured during mastication, spilling out its contents in the customer's mouth;

5. The eggs "somehow got into her saliva glands" as opposed to being swallowed by the victim and digested;

6. The eggs survived exposure to digestive enzymes in the victim's saliva;

7. The victim was one of those fewer than one-in-four people who are allergic to cockroaches.

8. Precisely the same thing happened more than once, to Taco Bell customers in various locations around the U.S.

In the mold of fast food horror legends of yore

Granted, any one, or two, or, for the sake of argument, even three of the above could conceivably have occurred, but all of them at once? In more than once instance? Believe it if you will, but in so doing prepare to admit you are taking a rather large leap of faith.

The more supportable conclusion is that 1998 saw the birth of a new urban legend following the form of earlier food contamination tales, most notably "The Kentucky-Fried Rat," in which a "funny-tasting piece of chicken" from a KFC restaurant is discovered to be a deep-fried rodent. Such legends play, of course, on the reputed uncleanliness and low quality standards of fast food restaurants everywhere.

Which reminds me. Have you heard the one about the guy who was eating a chicken sandwich at a certain fast food restaurant in Santa Fe and bit into a pus-filled abscess?

Or maybe it was in Toronto. Anyway, true story!

See also:
Does Taco Bell Serve "Grade D" Meat?
Did a Woman Get Cockroach Eggs in Her Tongue After Licking an Envelope?

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Emery, David. "Cockroach Egg Tacos / Burritos at Taco Bell." ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2015, thoughtco.com/cockroach-egg-tacos-burritos-at-taco-bell-3299304. Emery, David. (2015, April 19). Cockroach Egg Tacos / Burritos at Taco Bell. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cockroach-egg-tacos-burritos-at-taco-bell-3299304 Emery, David. "Cockroach Egg Tacos / Burritos at Taco Bell." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/cockroach-egg-tacos-burritos-at-taco-bell-3299304 (accessed November 20, 2017).