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A Boca Raton, Fla., woman whose family gagged on maggot-filled M&M candy bars is threatening to sue if Mars Inc. does not pay her an undisclosed sum of money and recall the “M-Azing” bars from stores.
Monica Castanheira, 31, has retained a lawyer and is saying she suffered mental anguish after spitting one of the maggots out of her mouth – it tasted “something like wood” – last week at her home, according to a report in the Boca Raton News.
“You have to taste it to know what it’s like,” Castanheira said. “It was kind of like Fear Factor without a prize. It was scary.”
Castanheira said she picked up several of the candy bars as an impulse purchase while buying dinner at a Subway in the Shell station near Florida Atlantic University.
Monica’s niece and nephew, ages 4 and 12, and her sister Renee Castanheira also ate some of the maggot-filled candy bars as the family watched the movie Ray.
“It was really disgusting,” Monica said. “My nephew went upstairs and was feeling bad. My niece was crying.”
Renee Castanheira, 39, said the family went to the emergency room on Wednesday for a clean bill of health.
“My hands were shaking,” Renee Castanheira said. “My daughter thinks she has to eat all the time now to feed the worm in her stomach. Try explaining to a 4-year-old that she’s wrong about anything.”
Barbara G. Banks, the Coral Springs attorney representing Castanheira, said the family on Thursday filed a late police report and sent letters of demand seeking unknown damages to Shell and to Mars' Masterfoods USA business unit.
“Monica approached me the day after it happened,” Banks said. “This is about quality control, not money. We’d like to see all these bars pulled from the shelves.”
The Castanheira family ultimately bought 20 of the candy bars, including several opened in the presence of a police officer and several local news outlets, to prove they were not making the story up.
Banks said she believed that flies dropped the maggot eggs into vats of chocolate at the Mars processing plant where the chocolate was made.
But Bobby Bickley, environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division, said it’s more likely that flies got into the candy bar peanuts at a warehouse or silo.
“I’m guessing these peanut-flavored bars have some cereal product in them that had eggs in them already,” Bickley said. “It’s pretty common for bug parts to get into rice, grain and peanuts. We get calls every day from someone who finds a grasshopper in a can of beans. We look at it and say, ‘yep, it’s a grasshopper.’ It’s not harmful.”
The Food Safety Division’s 128 inspectors are responsible for regulating more than 47,000 Florida food establishments, including grocery stores and gas stations. At press time, inspectors were planning to investigate the Shell station.
“We’ll look for other contaminated foods or unsanitary conditions,” Bickley said. “We do consider maggots to be contamination. The candy bar package was not tampered with.”
Masterfoods USA released the following statement: “We were surprised to hear about this incident. Clearly it is unacceptable for our product to be in this condition. We immediately began investigating how this could have happened and we are working to resolve it. I can tell you that we maintain a strict quality-control program to ensure that our products leave our factories in the freshest possible condition. We are working to identify what happened to this product after it left our control.”
The owner of the Shell station, an independent franchise, did not respond to media inquiries last week.
Bickley said the state’s options include destroying the candy bars, fining the Shell owner, stopping the owner from selling “M-Azing” and/or consulting with the FDA to force Mars to recall the candy.
“If we know they’ve put out contaminated food products, we’ll ask them to make a recall,” Bickley said. “I can’t say at this point what will happen. All I can say is this: If in doubt, throw it out.”
Bickley’s theories appeared vindicated when the Castanheira family opened two sealed “M-Azing” candy bars in the presence of a Boca News photographer at the Banks law office.
Although maggots were observed in a red-wrapped “peanut flavored” candy bar, no maggots were found in the blue-wrapped “crunchy flavor” bar.