Dodge County — A mysterious Skittles spill on a rural highway in Wisconsin is taking another twist, with Mars Inc. saying it doesn't know why the discarded candy might have been headed to become cattle feed.
The case began when a Wisconsin sheriff posted on Facebook this week that "hundreds of thousands of Skittles" had been found spilled on a highway. Later, he updated the post to say the candy had fallen off a truck on its way to be cattle feed.
Only red Skittles had spilled out, and Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt joked in the post that it would be difficult to "Taste the Rainbow" in its entirety. The incident gained attention after CNN wrote about it, citing a report from a local affiliate.
A variety of food byproducts are commonly used for animal feed, and McLean, Virginia-based Mars says it has procedures for discarding foods for that purpose. However, the company says the Skittles in question came from a factory that doesn't sell unused products for feed.
"We don't know how it ended up as it did and we are investigating," Mars said.
Schmidt said one of his deputies came across the spill on County Highway S near Beaver Dam shortly before 9 p.m.Jan. 17 and sent him photos, which he posted on Facebook. He said the Skittles spilled from a box that started to disintegrate in the rain, and about half of them got out. The Skittles on the ground did not have the standard letter "S'' on them, he said.
The Dodge County Highway Department was called to clean up the candy-coated shells — packed with ingredients such as sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, tapioca dextrin, sodium citrate and carnauba wax — which were intended to be cattle feed because they did not make the cut for packaging, according to the sheriff's office.
Mars spokeswoman Denise Young said the Skittles were supposed to be destroyed because a power outage prevented the signature "S'' from being placed on the candies. She said Mars planned to contact the sheriff's office and the farmer to find out more.
Linda Kurtz, a corporate environmental manager at Mars, said the company sells unused candies and ingredients to processors that incorporate them with other materials to make animal feed. She said Mars does not sell directly to farmers, and its procedures follow Food and Drug Administration regulations.
Kurtz said Mars determined the spilled Skittles came from its plant in Yorkville, Illinois, which does not sell products for animal feed. The other U.S. plant that makes Skittles, in Waco, Texas, sells to a local processor that melts them down into syrup.
Josh Cribbs, a cattle nutritionist and director of commercial development for the American Maine-Anjou Association, which promotes a particular cattle breed, said that the food byproducts that get used for cattle feed vary depending on what's available in the region and particular time of year.
Cribbs said specific byproducts would be mixed with other ingredients to achieve a particular nutritional profile.
"You might think, 'Oh my gosh, they might be eating a Skittle.' In reality, that piece of candy is being broken down," he said.
As the price of corn increased in recent years, some farmers have turned to discarded food products to feed their cows.
According to a 2012 Reuters report: "In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries. Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through corn."
It seems red Skittles have joined that list.
The Sheriff Schmidt said he spoke with the farmer, but declined to immediately give the farmer's name and did not respond when asked by email how the office connected the Skittles with the farmer.
Jesse Garza of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.