It goes without saying: Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal should not include cinnamon-crusted shrimp tails.
But according to writer-producer-podcaster Jensen Karp, a family pack from a local Costco had just that — along with a piece of string, a “weird cinnamon covered pea thing” and “black things” baked into some squares and lurking at the bottom of the bag.
This was not what Times food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson had in mind when he ranked Cinnamon Toast Crunch at the top of his official breakfast cereal power rankings a couple of years back.
“Ummmm @CTCSquares — why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit),” Karp tweeted Monday morning after eating a bowl of the cereal and then seeing a couple of sugar-coated things in the package that didn’t look like the cereal’s traditional rice-and-wheat squares. Yep, they looked like a couple of shrimp tails.
Karp is credited as a producer or executive producer on shows including Nickelodeon’s “Unleashed” and TBS/TNT’s “Drop the Mic.” He’s worked with “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy, and in his tween years he was a battle rapper. For real.
And he had a word for skeptics who think he’s faking the whole situation to become a viral sensation: “there are black items COOKED ONTO the squares and tons of it at the bottom of the bag,” he tweeted Tuesday, “in addition to shrimp tails and other SUGAR COATED junk. Also, it’s only ‘viral’ because of their insane response. I would’ve dropped it.”
In response to manufacturer General Mills’ offer to replace the cereal in question, he tweeted Monday, “GUYS — I am not sure I’m ready for another box!!!” The company replied, “We understand your concern. We promise you that our team will look into this and get to the bottom of it — but in the meantime, we want to do everything we can to make this right. We’ll need further details to research.”
The company told Karp later in the day that its team’s investigation of the images he had posted led them to believe the mystery ingredients were “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,” the company said via direct message to Karp, adding that it also wanted to offer him General Mills vouchers to make up for his “unpleasant experience.”
Citing “further investigation with my eyes,” Karp called BS on that explanation. “[T]hese are cinnamon coated SHRIMP TAILS, you weirdos. I wasn’t all that mad until you now tried to gaslight me?”
About an hour later, he said the company wanted him to send them the items for a “closer look.”
“These are obviously shrimp tails, so I will be keeping one as evidence, as I now feel like Sandra Bullock in The Net,” tweeted Karp, who did not respond immediately Tuesday to The Times’ request for an interview.
“For real — someone tell me they [the black things] aren’t like maggots or bugs. Is it shrimp adjacent? (also just found this weird cinnamon covered pea thing?),” Karp tweeted. “I wish this was a joke.”
A Twitter user said it looked as if “something got into a bag of dry mix and nested,” prompting Karp to note that he felt like washing his mouth out with acid.
By Monday afternoon, Karp had enlisted his wife, “Boy Meets World” actor-director Danielle Fishel, to explore the family pack’s second bag Monday night. In addition to finding what was allegedly dental floss, she discovered signs — i.e., tape — that the bag may have been tampered with.
Come Tuesday, Karp took the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch to a lab for testing, then updated his followers.
“I am now in touch with a testing lab re: the ‘black things,’ which I will not yet be calling by any other name for my own sanity. Also, a research company will be paying to DNA test the shrimp tail! (2021, y’all),” he said in a tweet thread. “I want to also explain this: I have NO idea how this stuff got in my cereal bags and neither does @CTCSquares. It definitely could’ve been contaminated in the Costco (though that doesn’t explain the squares with black stuff COOKED on it or the sugar coating on the shrimp).
“My point is — their initial reaction to shellfish being in the bag was to tell me it was sugar,” he continued. “Not to investigate the issue or look into it. It’s a deadly allergy to many (and non-Kosher) and that didn’t seem to matter beyond offering me a new box. I originally approached them thinking it would help out! Then, they said I’m mistaking sugar for a crustacean. Anyway, I’m testing the DNA of a shrimp tail now. So, I hope everyone is happy.”
Tweeting screenshots of his exchanges with General Mills, Karp said the company reached out again via direct message and asked him to wait Wednesday for FedEx and then turn over the items Karp and Fishel had found, plus all the packaging. Karp replied that he would be sending them nothing.
“You’re being super sketchy and odd,” he wrote to the company, “when this was a very easy PR response to make people feel assured you care about your products.”
“While we are still investigating this matter, we can say with confidence that this did not occur at our facility,” General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas said Tuesday in a statement to The Times. “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.”
Costco did not reply immediately to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Karp told TMZ on Tuesday that he was “off” the cereal forever, saying it was “such a bummer because I was a huge fan.” Like, he was the guy in the vintage Cinnamon Toast Crunch T-shirt, with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Nikes.
“I’m the new Gorilla Glue Girl, aren’t I?,” Karp tweeted Tuesday.
Later in the afternoon, a General Mills social media specialist sent Karp an email suggesting that he take the items in question to his “local law enforcement” if he didn’t want to send them to the company.
“This may be product tampering and we need the opportunity to investigate the packaging,” the company said in an email.
“I’m not walking into a random police station yelling, ‘Here’s the shrimp tails that General Mills wants!’ like it’s a smoking gun from a murder,” Karp replied.
“You guys,” he said, “are an insane mess of a company.”