It’s Labeled ‘Do Not Eat,’ But What if You Do?

Here's what happens when you don't follow the instructions on the label.

  • DNEcover
  • Non-food: Toothpaste 
Where you find it: In your bathroom, we'd hope.

What if you eat it? Not much...You may feel a little sick to your stomach, if you can getpast your paste-induced gag reflex.

  • Non-food: Silica

Where you find it: In packages containing everything from books to camera equipment to dry packaged foodstuffs. 

What if you eat it? Nothing whatsoever, silica is not poisonous. It's labeled "Do not eat" to prevent choking, not poisoning. 

  • Non-food: Nair 
Where you find it: In the hair removal aisle at your local pharmacy. 

What if you eat it? If you leave Nair on your skin too long, it begins to burn you. Imagine what that means if it's in the soft, sensitive lining of your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. No bueno. Depending on how much you eat, it may not kill you, but it will definitely make you sick, and could cause internal bleeding and long-term damage.

  • Non-food: Nail Polish Remover
Where you find it: At the salon, in your bathroom, at the pharmacy.

What if you eat it? If it's an acetone-based remover and you ingest it in very small amounts, you'll be OK, aside from a gross taste in your mouth and perhaps some nausea. But, if you all-out chug the stuff, you'll likely pass out and need to be rushed to the hospital. Acetone is processed by the liver, so an overload can cause liver damage, and it's a corrosive agent, so you'll likely suffer some internal burns as well. 

  • Non-food: Anything Mr. Yuck 
Where you find it: Under the sink in your childhood home, in elementary school science classrooms nationwide. 

What if you eat it? Depends on what the sticker's stuck to... But if it's bleach or other household cleaners, you'll probably become very sick, very quickly. Vomiting, at a minimum.

  • Non-food: Fish 
Where you find it: Depending on where you've been fishing, you may have seen seen signs like the one above warning you to not eat any fish you catch. Typically, you'll see this in urban areas where waters are more likely to be polluted, but we've seen them along the comparatively clean shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont, where algae blooms have been causing problems for years, to lakes in Colorado that abut chemically tainted mining areas. 

What if you eat it? Whatever's in the water is also in its fish. So, if the area is contaminated with heavy metals like mercury, lead, etc., you'll be ingesting those heavy metals along with your dinner. If bacteria's the concern, you may be in for a nasty bacterial infection, or if it's parasites, you could find yourself swimming with worms after eating infected fish. Whatever the case, best to catch and release and steer clear. 

  • Non-food: Drano 
Where you find it: Under your sink.

What if you eat it? If the internal bleeding and chemical poisoning don't kill you, the reconstructive surgery you'll need (if it's even possible) to recreate your digestive tract may...If ingested, Drano will dissolve your digestive tract and leave you without an esophagus, stomach, and likely your intestines. Urban Myths)

In today’s hazardous world, almost every household item is labeled to the nth degree with warnings about what you can eat, when you can and can’t eat it, and what to do if—by some stroke of luck—you ingest something you shouldn’t. It’s enough to make your head spin, even without ingesting dangerous chemicals or non-food items.

This wasn’t always the case. The FDA has a handy chronology on their website that tells the history of food labeling in this country—but if that’s not your idea of fascinating non-work reading material for your Tuesday after Labor Day hangover, we’ve summarized the history for you below.

Click through the gallery to see non-food items labeled “do not eat,” and what would happen if you eat them.



1906: Teddy Roosevelt’s congress passes the Food and Drugs Act prohibiting “misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs” to be sold across state lines, to protect consumers from being duped by “miracle cures” and the like. Baby steps, but it’s a start.

1913: Packaged foods must be labeled in a way that a package’s contents are “plainly and conspicuously marked on the outside of the package in terms of weight, measure, or numerical count,” as part of the Gould Amendment.

1924: With U.S. v. 95 Barrels Alleged Apple Cider Vinegar, the Supreme Court effectively outlaws deceptive and/or misleading labeling.

1962: President John F. Kennedy proclaims the Consumer Bill of Rights, outlining the consumer’s right to safety, the right to be heard, and perhaps most integrally, the right to make informed choices about what s/he consumes.

1966:  The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires that every consumer product, from foods to household cleaners to makeup, be “honestly and informatively labeled,” and calls for FDA enforcement to keep manufacturers honest.

1990: As a result of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, packaged foods must bear specific nutrition information (The ubiquitous “Nutrition Facts” on the back of everything you eat). Serving sizes, fat contents and other food facts are standardized. This law is further clarified and refined in 1992, and a similar bill, called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, passes in 1994, requiring like labeling for nutritional and performance-enhancing supplements.

2004: The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires foods containing peanuts, soybeans, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat to be labeled as such, in an effort to protect people with common food allergies.


  • Elvis

    Your gallery script sucks

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