If you’ve spent the past several years trying to find the world’s most cursed box of cereal, you can stop looking—because a California man already bought it. On Monday morning, writer and podcast host Jansen Karp found what appeared to be two shrimp tails in a newly opened box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and every time he looked inside the Costco-sized package, the situation just got worse.
“Ummmm @CTCSquares, why are there shrimp tails in my cereal?,” he wrote in a way-past-viral tweet, tagging the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Twitter account. He then retweeted it, adding Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s parent company General Mills to the chat—and the way that Big G has handled this entire situation could be used in a one-day marketing seminar called “How to Fuck Everything Up.”
The Cinnamon Toast Crunch account was the first to respond, telling Karp that it would like to report the lightly sugared shellfish to their quality control team. Two hours later, the company finished Sherlocking their way through his iPhone photos, and decided that even though Karp found something that looked a lot like a small crustacean’s undercarriage, that’s not what it was.
“After further investigation with our team that closely examined the image, it appears to be an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren't thoroughly blended,” it wrote. “We assure you that there's no possibility of cross-contamination with shrimp.”
Karp responded that “after further investigation with [his] eyes,” he knew that he was holding a pair of shrimp tails, not unfortunately shaped lumps of cinnamon and sugar. The company continued to slide into Karp’s DMs, and encouraged him to send the alleged uropods to them for further analysis. “We’ll be sending a pre-paid, addressed envelope so you can send the pieces to us,” @CTCSquares wrote.
But things only got sketchier for every single participant in this story, because Karp noticed some dark discolorations that seemed to be baked into some of the squares. And then he found a small length of string in the bag. And then he looked at the other bag of cereal in the family-sized box, discovered that it appeared to have been taped together on one side, and saw a piece of what appeared to be dental floss inside the package.
A couple of people responded to suggest that the dark marks on some of the cereal could be rodent droppings, so Karp called his local poison control center to see what he should do. (“Good news,” he wrote. “If it IS rat poo, I won’t feel the flu-like effects of an infection for a few days.”)
He was still alive on Tuesday, and took the cereal to a lab to have “the black stuff” tested and from there, he was sent to “pest control.” In another update, he reported that a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles has agreed to DNA test the shrimp tails, because sure, why wouldn’t this story go full CSI: Cereal Aisle?
Cinnamon Toast Crunch wrote back to Karp, telling him that they wanted him to agree to one of two three-hour windows when a FedEx driver could stop by his home to collect the box of assorted nasties. A General Mills social media specialist also contacted him, advising that he should take the cereal box to his local law enforcement agency, because it “may be product tampering, and we need the opportunity to investigate.”
General Mills seems to have gone into full Cover Our Cinnamon Toasted Asses-mode, and their ‘product tampering’ angle tracks with what the company told VICE when we reached out. “While we are still investigating this matter, we can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility," spokesperson Mike Siemienas said. “We are waiting for the consumer to send us the package to investigate further. Any consumers who notice their cereal box or bag has been tampered with, such as the clear tape that was found in this case, should contact us." (Siemienas declined to answer additional questions, saying that the company had “nothing additional to add” beyond their prepared statement.)
A spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told VICE that it could not comment on potential or ongoing investigations, and did not confirm whether it would be taking up the case of the cinnamon coated-shrimp tails. We also reached out to Karp for comment, but jave not yet received a response. He indicated that he purchased the box at Costco in Woodland Hills, California, but Costco did not respond to our request for comment either.
The thing is, all Cinnamon Toast Crunch or General Mills had to do was...NOT decide from a photograph that Karp was wrong about what he literally had in his hands, and instead get to the part where they ask for the package, offer to send him a few coupons or an ‘Mmm...real cinnamon!’ face mask or whatever huge companies do for damage control. Because Karp is right: the only reason this story went ridiculously viral is because they opted to rip a page out of Gaslighting for Dummies, telling him that he wasn’t actually seeing what he held in his own hand.
Incredibly, General Mills had a previous issue with finding shrimp in places where they shouldn’t be—except they were the Jensen Karp of that situation. In 2007, the company ordered 1.24 million pounds of blueberries from Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Co. but were unable to use them after discovering shrimp pieces mixed inside the berry packaging. Four years later, General Mills filed a federal lawsuit against Adkin, alleging that the tainted berries were “unsuitable for use” in their blueberry scones.
Huh. Was it really shrimp, or was it just “an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren't thoroughly blended?”