Most processed food consumers know that the marketing tactic of claiming sweet cereal is “part of a nutritious breakfast” is bullshit. And not all breakfast cereal is created equal. But most, at the very least, won’t expose you to Salmonella. Honey Smacks is not such a cereal. It’s also trash.
The arguably inedible ‘90s cereal has was linked in the past couple of months to 100 cases of Salmonella in 33 states. And according to CNN this week, at least 27 people have been hospitalized since March. As a result, boxes have been yanked from shelves and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised anyone holding onto Honey Smacks at home to toss them out.
The recall begs three questions: How did Salmonella get into cereal? Who still eats Honey Smacks? And why did anyone ever eat them in the first place?
It’s still unclear how mass-produced Honey Smacks got contaminated with Salmonella, but it’s the second most common intestinal infection in the US and is usually associated with eggs, meat, and poultry. That’s because the bacteria is carried by humans and animals, and food typically gets contaminated when it comes into contact with feces tainted by Salmonella bacteria. Uncooked eggs and meat are especially likely to transmit the bacteria, but fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated.
Regardless of the contamination source, internet reactions have been more about the product’s longevity and target consumers. Namely, how are Honey Smacks still popular?
The 65-year-old cereal brand is very old-school but also not at all appetizing. Even TV commercials from the ‘90s describe Honey Smacks as looking “kind of weird” and “very scary” before a child actors take a few unconvincing bites.
Not even Dig ‘Em, the disturbing frog mascot for the brand, can be trusted. Frogs don’t even like honey. And while the cereal was introduced as “Sugar Smacks” in 1953 and later changed to “Smacks” in Europe, the US continues to brand the cereal as being honey-flavored. Sugar-flavored would be more apt.
The ingredients of Honey Smacks are as follows, according to the nutrition label: sugar, wheat, dextrose, and honey. The cereal also contains vegetable oil, salt, caramel color, soy lecithin, and BHT, a preservative, for “freshness.” There isn’t any trans or saturated fat, nor is there cholesterol, but the sodium content is 12 percent of the recommended daily intake, and every one of each box’s 16 servings is 140 calories. For reference, most people use a cereal bowl that comfortably holds three servings.
Now, sugary breakfast cereal isn’t good for you, period. Added sugar can increase triglyceride levels, which can lead to heart disease. It’s bad for your teeth. And, of course, it inflates calorie counts that contribute to weight gain. But Honey Smacks is one of the worst offenders, nutrition-wise. It’s 60 percent sugar. In comparison, literal sugar-dusted Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal is only 28 percent sugar. And that at least tastes good.
Inverse staffers who have had the misfortune of tasting Honey Smacks describe it as “sickly sweet, an excellent imitation of the flavor that comes from eating cereal covered in honeycomb chunks.” That sweetness comes along with hydrogenated oils and soy lecithin, which increases appetite. All that for less than two grams of fiber, the stuff in cereal that’s actually healthy.
Even if you like the taste of sugar with a little bit of wheat, modern science and nutrition have made it clear that all boxes of Honey Smacks should have a single, final destination: the garbage can.
Inverse reached out to General Mills for comment but has yet to hear back.