US spice imports can be contaminated with salmonella, bugs, and even rubber bands, according to a report released on Wednesday by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA’s report explained that about 12 percent of the spices imported to the US contain contaminants. Federal authorities found that about seven percent of us spice imports examined by federal investigators were contaminated with salmonella.
According to federal food officials, the shares of contaminated spices were twice those discovered in other kinds of imported food. The New York Times reports that the FDA’s findings are part of a larger analysis on the safety of spice imports, which has gone on for years.
Jane M. Van Doren, a food and spice official with the FDA, explained that the findings “are a wake-up call” to spice producers. She added, “It means: ‘Hey, you haven’t solved the problems.’ ”
The Los Angeles Times notes that the FDA’s report added:
“Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions. The presence of rodent hair [without a root] in spices is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces.”
The FDA also called the issue of contaminated spices “systemic.” It identified 14 outbreaks from 1973 until 2010 that were caused by spices and sickened 2,000 people worldwide, sending 128 to the hospital.
While spice importers have noted issues with their products, they argued in the past that food manufacturers usually treat imported spices before they are marketed. Because of this, they believe that FDA findings of contaminated spices don’t mean that spices sold to US consumers are actually dangerous.
Still, FDA inspectors have found that spices can still be contaminated after they are treated, and the high level of filth from insects and rodents is an issue not easily resolved. Unlike salmonella contamination, heating the spices or cooking them can’t get rid of contamination from those species.
While 14 outbreaks related to spice contamination is a small amount compared to other foods, officials noted that people often fail to list any spices they had when they are asked what foods may have caused their illness. They also use smaller amounts of spices compared with other foods.
Of all the imported spices, those from Mexico and India were found to have the highest rate of contamination. Indian spice officials are working to correct the problem on their end, even offering incentives for their farmers to change some traditional harvest and handling practices that could cause contamination in their product.
Still, for now, the US is still dealing with contamination in imported spices.
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