A risk and safety assessment released Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that about 12 percent of foreign spice imports are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs, and other less than desirable objects. This newly released data could help to reveal the causes of spice-related outbreaks around the world.
The FDA was able to identify 14 outbreaks between 1973 and 2010 that were attributed to spices. Those outbreaks resulted in 2,000 reported illnesses around the world. For its assessment, the agency sampled 2,844 dry spice shipments from 2007 to 2009. It found that foreign spices tested positive for Salmonella at twice the rate of other FDA-regulated food products. That means about seven percent of the tested spices were contaminated with Salmonella. Leaf-based seasonings like basil and oregano were the most frequent offenders, and Mexico and India were cited as the countries with the highest percentages of contaminated spice imports.
The presence of insect parts and rodent hairs in the spices was particularly troubling to the FDA. The FDA said that the presence of insect and rodent traces indicates that the products are not properly prepared and packaged. In addition, the presence of rodent hairs usually indicates that there may also be traces of rodent feces in the products.
“Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions,” the agency wrote. “The presence of rodent hair without the root in spices generally is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces.”
So what should you do to keep yourself safe?
Essentially, you keep on doing what you’re doing. The risk of contamination specifically from these spices is extremely low. That’s because most of them are properly cooked into food, and the heat kills the germs. The FDA does not recommend that consumers stay away from spices. Instead, just be sure to add spices to your food before it is cooked.
“There is no magic wand for any of the problem we’re addressing,” said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA.
The FDA is looking into ways to curb the contamination. The report said that better training from the top of the spice supply chain all the way to the bottom would help. In addition, the agency hopes to reduce contamination by using the knowledge and technology that already exists to limit animal and insect access to food.