FDA Says Imported Spices Contaminated Salmonella
October 31, 2013

Imported Spices Contaminated With Salmonella And Rat Filth, Says FDA

[ Watch the Video: Salmonella And Filth Found In Many Imported Spices ]

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say they’ve found salmonella in nearly seven percent of all imported spices. This number is the result of three years’ worth of testing spices from India, Mexico and other countries around the world between 2007 and 2010.

More than 80 types of salmonella were found in the spices as well as other unsavory additives that made their way into the flavorings. All told, 12 percent of all spices imported into America have been found to be contaminated with either salmonella, animal waste, insects or rodent hair. The FDA is now suggesting that the spice industry look more closely at their practices to reduce further risk of contamination and illness.

“Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions,” said the FDA in the report. "The presence of rodent hair without the root in spices is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces.”

The agency noted 14 outbreaks between 1973 and 2010 which began as the result of spice contamination. These outbreaks sickened some 2,000 people all over the world, yet the agency said it could have been much worse. As spices are often added during cooking, it’s likely that salmonella and other bacteria are killed before they are ingested by humans. The FDA found a higher prevalence of salmonella in leafy spices, such as basil or oregano. The majority of these spices were shipped from Mexico and India.

Each of the contaminants found likely spoiled the spices while they were in storage, not as they were being harvested. The FDA report notes that salmonella can survive outside of an animal host for extended periods of time. What’s more, it can continue to live in low moisture foods, like spices, for over a year. Even when warehouses are kept at the appropriate humidity and temperature level, salmonella can be slow to die off. The agency has even noted that salmonella can grow in wet ground black pepper without any additional nutritional help.

Some spice manufacturers are arguing their products are safe by the time they reach consumers. The FDA may have found contaminants in imported spices, but these food products are often treated at another plant before they’re packaged, marketed and sold. America’s largest spice reseller McCormick & Co. issued a statement on their website regarding the FDA’s findings.

“Whether they’re grown in the United States or other parts of the world, McCormick exercises the same high level of quality control throughout our supply chain - including several million ingredient analyses each year and a natural steam pasteurization process,”wrote the company.

No amount of treatment once a spice has been imported can rid it of all contaminants, argues the FDA. Though salmonella can be destroyed or reduced with treatment, rat hair and feces is likely to stick around with the spice for much longer periods of time.

The fact that India is the second largest importer of spices into America is particularly troubling to the FDA. Nearly one-quarter of all spices and other flavoring agents in the US begin in India. As a part of this investigation, the FDA planned to send researchers to India to discuss their concerns over this contamination in the fall, but the partial government shut down at the start of the month delayed these plans.