Contaminated spices may contain insects, hair, feces and salmonella, according to a new report by the Food and Drug Administration released on Oct. 30, 2013. The FDA found that more than 80 different types of salmonella were discovered in samples of imported spices tested between 2007 and 2010.
According to the FDA's draft risk profile on pathogens and filth (which includes insects, hair and feces among other contaminants) in spices, imported spices are twice as likely to be contaminated with salmonella as other foods inspected within the same time period.
The FDA's draft risk profile on pathogens and filth in spices was "initiated in response to recent outbreaks of human illness caused by the consumption of Salmonella-contaminated spices in the United States," according to the FDA website.
"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," according to the FDA report.
The FDA submitted several theories to explain why the number of spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks is relatively small in relation to the high percentage of contaminated spices. They cited the low amount of spices consumed as part of a meal as one factor.
Pathogen reduction treatments by the spice and food manufacturing industries and cooking during food preparation were given as other potential reasons for the low number of spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks.
The FDA also noted that illnesses caused by contaminated spices may be underreported due to the difficulty in identifying the ingredient that caused the illness when dealing with foods containing multiple ingredients.
The entire Draft Risk Profile: Pathogens and Filth in Spices may be downloaded from U.S. Drug and Food Administration. Comments on the draft risk profile may be submitted beginning Nov. 4, 2013.
This isn't the first time that contaminated spices have caused a concern; lead-tainted turmeric from Bangladesh recently led to an FDA crackdown. Check out the video at the top of the page for more details.