The FDA is rethinking their import policies on spices after a number of bottles of turmeric from Bangladesh tested positive for lead, says the latest news. In fact, a certain brand of imported turmeric has been found to be contaminated with lead, microbes, and filth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a draft of its spice risk profile on Wednesday, calling attention to the most common microbial hazards and filth in spices, along with possible sources of contamination, according to an FDA October 30, 2013 news article,”FDA Releases Draft Risk Profile on Pathogens and Filth in Spices, Takes Steps to Strengthen Spice Safety.”
One turmeric brand is being recalled due to lead contamination. On Time Distribution is recalling PRAN brand Turmeric spice powder because it contains high levels of lead, according to the October 4, 2013 Food Safety News site, “Turmeric Recalled Due To Excessive Levels of Lead.” The FDA reports that one illness complaint has been received to date.
Recent analysis of the product found that it contained lead levels as high as 28 and 42 parts per million
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not set a specific limit on lead in spices but has set a maximum level of 0.1 parts per million (ppm) in candy. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that lead levels of 0.015 ppm in drinking water requires treatment. The recalled spice powder was distributed in New York and New Jersey through retail stores and direct delivery.
The recalled product is packed in 250 and 400 gram clear plastic jars with yellow lids and “Best Before” dates Oct. 26, 2014 and Jan. 15, 2015. Consumers who have purchased PRAN Turmeric are urged not to consume the product and should return it for a refund, according to Food Safety News article, “Turmeric Recalled Due To Excessive Levels of Lead.”
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has completed a draft risk profile on pathogens and filth in spices
A risk profile is a science-based document that describes the current state of knowledge related to a specific food safety issue, describes mitigation and control mechanisms currently available and identifies critical knowledge gaps. The risk profile was initiated in response to recent outbreaks of human illness caused by the consumption of Salmonella-contaminated spices in the United States.
The risk profile identifies the most commonly occurring microbial hazards and filth in spices and quantifies, where possible, the prevalence and levels of these adulterants at different points along the supply chain. It also identifies potential sources of contamination throughout the farm-to-table food safety continuum and evaluates the efficacy of current mitigation and control options designed to reduce the public health risk posed by consumption of contaminated spices in the United States.
Commonly occurring filth in spices
Potential new mitigation and control options are described, based on the scientific data, information and analyses in the report. The report concludes with a list of knowledge gaps and the research needed to fill them. The FDA seeks comments on this draft document, which can be submitted via the Federal Register.
The study’s 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.
Cooking spices during preparation
The relatively small number of outbreaks identified may be attributable in part to the application of preventive controls by the spice and food manufacturing industries, including pathogen reduction treatments, and cooking during food preparation. When shoppers buy turmeric at most supermarkets or food stores, they don’t know whether the ingredients came from another country or whether the ingredients were packed and distributed in the USA, but came from a foreign nation, or whether the spice is grown locally.
People’s tendency to eat small amounts of spices with meals generally lowers the probability of illness from contaminated spices relative to similarly contaminated foods consumed in larger amounts. It is also possible that illnesses caused by contaminated spices are underreported, particularly because of challenges related to attribution for minor ingredients in multi-ingredient foods.
The FDA has a number of regulatory standards and programs in place that help prevent contaminated spice from reaching consumers and these are described in the risk profile
In addition, the agency is taking steps to further strengthen spice safety. The FDA has increased inspections of spice manufacturing facilities in recent years and has begun to implement some of the options presented in the risk profile. But if it were enough, why would the contamination of spices be so widespread and the products only recently recalled?
For example, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is working with several partners to develop a training center focused on supply chain management for spices and botanical ingredients. As part of this program, FDA experts have provided food safety training in India, a leading country of origin for U.S. spice importation.
Through the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA has proposed a new rule on preventive controls for human food facilities and another on foreign supplier verification programs for importers
The preventive controls rule proposes to require food facilities to put into place preventive controls for those hazards identified by the manufacturer as reasonably likely to occur. The foreign supplier verification rule proposes to require that importers verify that the foods they import are produced using processes and procedures that ensure the same level of safety as food produced in the United States. Both rules hold the potential to improve spice safety. (More information on the proposed rules can be obtained at the FDA site, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The risk profile is available and can be read in its entirety on the FDA web site. To submit comments for use in the risk profile or to obtain additional information on the study, please visit the agency’s project web page project web page, where a link to the Federal Register notice is posted.
The agency’s testing between 2007 and 2010 revealed that 12 percent of imported spices were contaminated with insects, excrement, hair and other materials
In addition, Salmonella was prevalent in nearly 7 percent of imported spices – a rate twice as high as all other imported food regulated by FDA, says the report which also identifies harvest and intermediate storage before processing as the production steps most at risk for contamination.
There were 14 spice-related outbreaks worldwide between 1973 and 2010 with fewer than 2,000 illnesses and 128 hospitalizations, FDA says
If you check out the FDA’s latest press release, you can see how the contaminated spices were eaten in tiny amounts or were underreported. You have a situation where people reporting food-borne illness may not know whether the spice made them sick or the food, or any other ingredients used in the food. For more information, check out the article, “FDA Releases Draft Report on Pathogens and Filth in Imported Spices.”
Now the question is whether the FDA’s training center will look deeply enough into the supply chain and its management. When it comes to spices and botanicals imported from other countries, what may help is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Consumers need preventive controls for human food facilities in other nations that export foods. Who watches and checks the foreign suppliers to verify safety steps put in place for importers? The issue is whether there really is enough staff and resources to look at imported foods such as spices for contamination with lead, various toxins, or bacteria.
Broccoli recall due to listeria
Taylor Farms Maryland, Inc. in Jessup, Md. and Taylor Farms Texas, Inc. in Dallas are recalling approximately 22,849 pounds of broccoli salad kit products due to concerns about possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination in the salad dressing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced in an October 28, 2013 Food Safety News article, “Taylor Farms Recalls Broccoli Salads for Listeria Risk.”
Also see the site, “Maryland And Texas Firms Recall Broccoli Salad Kits With Dressing For Possible Listeria Contamination.” The salad dressing in the packets is the subject of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recall (see items DRSG. BROCCOLI RESER 18/18z).
The salad kits were shipped to distributors and retail locations (delis) for consumer purchase in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. The company is recalling these products in addition to the 5,084 pounds of similar products that were recalled on Oct. 25, 2013.
For a list of the types and brands of packaged salads, see the site, “Maryland And Texas Firms Recall Broccoli Salad Kits With Dressing For Possible Listeria Contamination.” Also see the article, “Reser’s Fine Foods Recalls More Products for Possible Listeria Contamination.” You also may wish to check out the October 30, 2013 article, “Case Count Up to 362 in Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak.”
This week is the start of the norovirus season
And right on target, two days ago on October 29, 2013, at least 51 students and employees at Stanford University were reported to have been sickened in a suspected norovirus outbreak, according to a spokeswoman for Santa Clara County Public Health, noted in a Food Safety News article by James Andrews, “51 Ill in Apparent Norovirus Outbreak at Stanford University.”
The outbreak appears to have originated in the dining hall of Florence Moore Hall. Students who dine at the hall began complaining of symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea beginning Tuesday afternoon.
What’s the source of contamination?
Four students received emergency care for dehydration, including intravenous fluids, but none were checked in to a hospital, according to public health information officer. The university staff is closing the dining hall after dinner on the evening of October 31, 2013 to heavily sanitize the facilities in case there is a lingering contamination issue.
The county health department has dispatched a team of investigators to determine the source of contamination and identify the pathogen causing the illnesses. Health officials have not yet been able to test a sample from any patients, but according to a Food Safety News article, the infections and were consistent with norovirus.