Writer Jensen Karp's discovery has turned into a PR nightmare for his favorite cereal brand.
Advertisement

What is it about finding something bizarre in prepackaged food that has perpetual news appeal? Sometimes these incidents have obvious safety repercussions—like the infamous Pepsi syringe hoaxes from the '90s. Other times, they're somehow even more off-putting—like finding a dead bat in bagged salad.

In the social media age, these kinds of strange finds to skip the news cycle altogether—which is precisely what happened when writer and entertainer Jensen Karp went viral on Twitter with a post about something unexpected he says he found in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch… shrimp tails.

The incident started innocently enough when, on Monday, Karp tweeted, "Ummmm @CTCSquares [the cereal's official Twitter] - why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit)." He mentioned "not a bit" because—among other endeavors—Karp is a comedy writer, something that helped give this momentum: His Twitter account is verified with over 100,000 followers.

But propelling the story even further is what many would consider a botched response from Cinnamon Toast Crunch's social media team. At one point, @CTCSquares replied, "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. We assure you that there's no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp"—an assertion Karp was quickly able to disprove with a couple more pics.

"It's only 'viral' because of their insane response," Karp later tweeted. "I would've dropped it."

So what exactly did happen?  Karp said he started his Monday morning with a bowl of one of his favorite cereals, Cinnamon Toast Crunch—which he had purchased from Costco. "I went to eat a second (one I was going to share a bit with my 21-month-old), and that's when something plopped out of the box," he told me via email. "It didn't take long to realize it was a sugar-coated shrimp tail. Then when I looked into the bag, I saw the second."

That's not all he found. After his back-and-forth with the brand on Twitter went sour, Karp examined the box further. He told the New York Times he found "shrimp skins-looking things," "a small string" and another small object—all covered in sugar—as well little black bits on some of the squares and at the bottom of the bag. Additionally, the second bag in the two-pack apparently had been taped back together. Karp said he's given these items to be a lab to be tested and is leery of sending the evidence to General Mills after their response, which included the brand's suggestion that he take the box to the police.

Cinnamon toast crunch
Credit: popovaphoto/Getty Images

Reached for comment, General Mills gave us the following statement. "While we are still investigating this matter, we can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility," said spokesperson Mike Siemienas. "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."

As for what Karp thinks happened, he told us he has "no idea." He continued, "My guess is that it was tampered with at some point, but that doesn't explain the black little squiggly things cooked onto some squares or why the tails are sugar coated. I've went back and forth so much, but my main goal isn't to actually solve it, but to have General Mills investigate it." Taking some of that investigation into his own hands, Karp is also having the shrimp identified using DNA.

And the whole incident may not be completely bad for General Mills' business. There are already chefs and TikTok-ers concocting recipes with, you guessed it, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and shrimp.

But for anyone wondering if this whole thing is just a Pepsi needle-like publicity stunt, Karp told the Times that's certainly not the case. "I'm a comedy writer, but like, there's no joke here," he was quoted as saying. "To take down my favorite cereal brand? I don't even know why that's a funny joke. I love Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It's the only cereal I eat. I own the Kyrie Irving Cinnamon Toast Crunch Nikes."