Contaminated Spices: 12 Percent Of All Spices Contain Insect Parts, Rodent Hair

Contaminated spices are filling the shelves of stores across the United States and leaving consumers with bits of insect and rodent hair in their food, FDA officials said this week.

Federal food authorities released a report this week that found up to 12 percent of spices imported to the United States are contaminated with bits of insect or rodents, and 7 percent were contaminated with the toxic bacteria salmonella.

The FDA called the contaminated spices a “systematic challenge,” saying that most of the insects found were ones that live in warehouses and not in the native environments where the spices originate, suggesting poor storage processes.

Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, said the spice industry needs to step up its efforts to find a solution.

“There is no magic wand for any of the problem we’re addressing,” Taylor said.

The announcement of contaminated spices comes as the FDA is doing more to crack down on tainted foods, both for humans and animals. Earlier this week the agency announced that for the first time it was taking steps to protect animal foods from disease-causing bacteria, requiring manufacturers to develop practices to prevent foodborne illness.

“Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods,” said Daniel McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement. “There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that.”

The move was partly in response to an incidence of tainted jerky treats that have killed more than 600 animals in the last several months.

“The FDA continues to take steps to meet the challenge of ensuring a safe food supply,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg in a statement. “Today’s announcement addresses a critical part of the food system, and we will continue to work with our national and international industry, consumer and government partners as we work to prevent foodborne illness.”

The FDA said it plans to do more to find the sources of contaminated spices and take action.