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Home for the Holidays: Caution — Contaminated Spices

With the approaching holiday season, cooks across America are reaching for the spice cabinet to create favorite family dishes. In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report that might put a damper on recipes that call for imported spice.

Continued efforts by the FDA to improve food safety led to development of a risk profile for aromatic vegetative materials used in various forms and imported into the United States. Recent legislation allows the FDA to refuse entry of contaminated materials and gives the agency new leverage to turn back substandard imports.

With a decidedly unsavory title, the October 31 risk profile, “Pathogen and Filth in Spices,” serves as a wakeup call to spice producers, importers and the consumers who use common spices like pepper. Facts detailed in the profile include the following:

  • About 12 percent of spices imported into the United States are contaminated or adulterated.
  • Pathogens found in spice samples include salmonella, Bacillus cereus, shigella, staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria.
  • The FDA identified more than 80 different types of salmonella in spice samples. Salmonella can survive in low-moisture foods like spices for years.
  • Filth found in spices includes insects, whole and in parts, excrement of birds, animals and insects, hair from a variety of species, including birds, humans, dogs, bats and cows, along with debris like plastic, rubber, wood and feathers.
  • Between 1973 and 2010, 14 illness outbreaks were tied to consumption of contaminated spices.
  • Treatment of spices for contaminants does not address the filth and debris. About one-quarter of all spices and oils used in the United States are imported from India, the prime producer of contaminated spices, along with Mexico.

Salmonella is dangerous to the young, the old and those with compromised immune systems. Addressing the problem of contaminated spices is going to take time. If you are sickened by food you purchase or are served, speak with an experienced injury attorney in New York.

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