Occupational Health & Safety

Are Spices Safe?

A new study from FDA showed that 12 percent of imported spices contain insect parts, animal hair, and possibly unsafe pathogens.

Before sprinkling some tarragon, saffron, or cumin into your next home-cooked meal, beware: Last week, the FDA found that 12 percent of imported spices are contaminated. With what, you ask? Insect parts, rodent hairs, full insects and other "things," according to The New York Times.

The agency reported that its findings "suggest that the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a systemic challenge. Failures identified in the farm-to-table food safety system potentially leading to adulteration of consumed spice generally arose from poor/inconsistent application of appropriate preventive controls. The study identified 14 spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks worldwide that occurred from 1973 to 2010, resulting in less than 2,000 reported human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations worldwide.

FDA did the study as part of a larger effort to look at the safety of spices, a project it has been involved with for years. The inspectors found that some spices considered safe from being treated were still contaminated when tested. They also found the problem is difficult to eradicate because heating something up (which can kill salmonella) will not kill certain types of harmful bacteria that come from insects or rodents. Spice-related illnesses are also underreported, because many people don't recall "saffron" when asked what they think made them sick; they remember chicken, beef, eggs, etc.

Certain spice producers stand by their products, ensuring that they are safe despite FDA's findings. 

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