It’s a strange story that has gotten even stranger.
Last week, deputies from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department in southeast Wisconsin came across thousands of red candies scattered across a county highway between the cities of Leipsig and Juneau.
It was late — just before 9 p.m. on Jan. 17 — and rainy, but the candies were unmistakable, Deputy Dale Schmidt told CNN affiliate WISN.
"There's no little 's' on them, but you can definitely smell, it's a distinct Skittles smell," he said.
The Sheriff’s Department posted photos of the brightly-colored mess on its Facebook page, as well as a quip using the brand’s slogan.
“It is certainly clear that it may be difficult to ‘Taste the Rainbow’ in its entirety with one color that likely fell off the truck!” the department wrote.
In an update posted Jan. 18, the department noted the Skittles had apparently tumbled off a flatbed pickup after the rain disintegrated the box storing them. The candies, produced at a Yorkville, Ill. plant, were to be incorporated into cattle feed.
My gut reaction? Alarm. Why would we give Skittles to cows? They’re supposed to eat grass and hay, and in many cases, corn is used to bulk up their diets. How could mixing sweets into their feed affect our diets down the line?
Don’t get me wrong — I love Skittles. They have a taste and texture you can’t find anywhere else, and it’s really easy to throw back fistfuls of the rainbow treats, especially if a bowl of them is left unattended. That said, Skittles have a fair amount of sugar — 46 grams in one 2.17-ounce package.
Turns out, it might not be as big of a deal as I thought. John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, told LiveScience in 2012 that ruminant animals, including cows, can digest food in the rumen, the first of four stomach compartments, that other animals can’t, thanks to strong microbes inside of it.
Provided the cows get a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals — just as we should — it doesn’t matter if the cows are digesting candy or corn, Waller said. And, in reality, many candies contain corn in one form or another. In fact, the second ingredient on the Skittles list is corn syrup.
And there’s also the issue of waste, Waller noted.
"I think it's a viable [diet]," he said. "It keeps fat material from going out in the landfill, and it's a good way to get nutrients in these cattle. The alternative would be to put [the candy] in a landfill somewhere."
Denise Young, v.p. of corporate affairs for Wrigley Americas, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc., said in a prepared statement the company has procedures in place for selling discarded food products — including candy — to third parties for incorporation into animal feed. So again, not totally unusual.
But here comes the plot twist. A power outage prevented the Yorkville facility from completing the Skittles batch and the products were to be destroyed. Wrigley doesn’t know why or how the candies got from Chicago’s southwest suburbs to a county highway in rural Wisconsin.
“We don't know how it ended up as it did and we are investigating,” she says.
Hopefully, Wrigley will let us know what the investigation reveals. It’s too delicious of a story to leave without an ending. At the very least, it provided an opportunity to look at how our food goes from the field to our forks.