Many spices are commonly imported into the US; however, a contamination problem has surfaced. On October 30, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report that noted that an analysis over a three-year period (2007 through 2010) revealed that nearly 7% of imported spices were contaminated with salmonella. In addition, the report noted that spices were twice as likely to be contaminated with the bacteria than other imported food products. It also noted that more than 80 different types of salmonella were detected. A total of 749 spice shipments were refused entry into the US because of salmonella contamination. In addition, other forms of contamination were found; 238 other shipments were denied because of the presence of other potentially harmful materials, including insects, excrement, or hair.
Many of the contaminated shipments arose from India, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. On a positive note that some of the contaminated spices were later cooked or treated to eliminate possible pathogens; therefore, much of the salmonella was likely to have been destroyed before the spices were consumed. In addition, the FDA noted that the amount of spice generally consumed at a meal is small; thus, reducing the risk of illness.
According to the FDA, the decision to initiate the study was due to the report of spice-related salmonella outbreaks around the globe. Black pepper and red pepper from India, Vietnam, and China used in salami caused hundreds of illnesses in 2009 and 2009. The agency notes that, worldwide, 14 known salmonella outbreaks have occurred since 1973; they caused almost 2,000 illnesses, many of which were in children.
The majority of spices consumed in the US are imported, and most come from small farms in a variety of nations that have different levels of food safety oversight. According to the FDA report, a wide variety of agricultural practices are used to produce spices. For example, animals are used to plow the fields, crops are harvested by hand, and spices are dried in open air. All of these factors have a potential for contamination from animal, bird, or human feces. After leaving the small farms, spices are often combined, sold to exchanges or packing companies, or stored for years; thus, increasing the chances that they are exposed to an unclean environment.
The FDA report notes that much of the knowledge and technology to reduce contamination exist; however, they are often not employed on small farms in foreign nations. Contamination would be markedly reduced by limiting animal and insect access to the spices; in addition irradiation could kill pathogens. (Food products irradiated with gamma radiation contain no residual radiation.)
Salmonella infections are diarrheal infections caused by the bacteria salmonella. The salmonella germ is actually a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. Salmonella are transmitted from feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Contaminated foods are often animal in origin, such as beef, poultry, seafood, milk, or eggs. However, all foods, including some unwashed fruits and vegetables can become contaminated.
The most common symptoms of salmonella infections include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Other symptoms may include chills, headache, nausea, or vomiting. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. The symptoms of salmonella infections may resemble other conditions or medical problems; thus, it is always prudent to consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Take home message:
In essence, many of the spices available on your local supermarket’s shelf may be contaminated. Adding spices before cooking is a simple and effective way to kill pathogens. Also, organic spices are available that are grown in the US and Canada.