FDA continues study to increase spice safety

March 08, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been analyzing a two-year nationwide study to collect information on the presence of Salmonella in retail packages of spices consumers buy in supermarkets, ethnic markets, discount stores, and on the internet.

There have been several recalls of spices and herbs in the past few years for Salmonella contamination, and a Salmonella outbreak linked to spices in Sweden sickened 178 people last summer. In addition, an FDA report in 2013 found that 12% of imported spices are tainted with pathogenic bacteria or filth.

According to an article recapping the FDA’s finding, the draft risk profile created by the FDA for the study found that the presence of pathogens such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a “systemic challenge” and that the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. In the study, spice shipments from 79 countries were examined for Salmonella and the FDA found that 37 of the 79 countries had Salmonella-contaminated shipments.

In fact, spice shipments offered for entry into this country had an overall presence for Salmonella of about 6.6% during the years 2007 to 2009, which is about twice the average of all other imported, FDA-regulated foods. The article also explains that about 12% of spice shipments that come into the U.S. from 2007 to 2009 were adulterated with filth such as insects and animal hair.

However, the study also found that the FDA was missing key information about the level of contamination of spices sold at the retail level in this country. Many imported spices are treated after they are imported, so that 6.6% contamination rate does not reflect contamination in the product that consumers actually buy.

Now that the FDA has obtained more retail information it will continue to analyze its results including 7,249 samples of basil, black pepper, oregano, paprika, red pepper (capsicum), coriander, cumin, curry powder, garlic, sesame seed and white pepper — much of which is imported.

How do spices become contaminated with Salmonella in the first place you ask? Well, after spices are harvested from plants, they're often laid on the ground to dry. Salmonella comes from birds and other animals, so the animals are getting access to the spices somewhere in picking, drying, processing or storage.

The article explains that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will help the FDA improve spice safety as the regulations focus on preventing hazards and tightening controls in the supply chain on products produced in this country, and for imported products as well. The agency has also increased inspections of spice manufacturing facilities.

In addition, the FDA is working with partners to develop a training center focused on supply chain management for spices and botanical ingredients. India is the leading country of origin for U.S. spice importation and the FDA has offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Furthermore, the agency has staff permanently stationed in China, India, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, all areas that import spices to the U.S.

The report concludes that the FDA is not recommending that consumers change their consumption or use of spices at this time. In many cultures, spices are added during cooking rather than at the table. This heat treatment can reduce pathogen contamination, depending on the length of cooking time and the final temperature of the food.

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Category: Food Safety, Food & Beverage, Pathogens, Environmental Monitoring