By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow
Insect parts, rodent hairs and salmonella. According to a report recently released by the FDA, spices are twice as likely to be adulterated with these dangerous contaminants than other imported foods. With 12% of spices containing rodent hairs, whole or partial insects and “other things” (i.e. rodent feces), as well as rates of salmonella being as high as 7%, Americans have reason to be wary of their spices.
The problem causing such high contamination rates are the way in which spices are farmed and stored. Spices often come from very small farms that engage in older processes such as hand harvesting and drying the spices out the in sun. Another problem is that spices are frequently stored in warehouses for years, increasing their chances of exposure to insects and rodents. The study found that spices imported from Mexico and India had the highest rates of contamination. With one quarter of the world’s spices coming from India, such findings are great cause for concern.
Eighty different types of salmonella, the most disturbing among these contaminants, were identified throughout the three year study. While fewer than 2,000 people had salmonella related illnesses directly connected to spices between 1973 and 2010, it’s unclear how high these numbers could actually be as many people forget to report eating spices when recalling which foods may have sickened them.
The good news is that the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely clean up overseas practices for companies importing their goods to this country. It’s a constant battle to see that these new regulations are implemented in a timely manner and comprehensively address all importation issues but the fact that change is on its way is something we, as consumers, should applaud.