Spices and Salmonella
When it comes to food safety, we tend to think about improperly cooked or stored food. But there is a risk from another source: spices commonly found in stores. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring the safety of spices, focusing on the presence of Salmonella. Here, the agency answers some frequently asked questions about the issue:
- What has the FDA learned about the safety of spices?
To learn more about the public health risks associated with spices and help us in developing plans to improve the safety of spices, we developed a draft risk profile , which we released in October 2013. The objectives of the risk profile included describing the nature and extent of the public health risk posed by the consumption of spices in the U.S., describing and evaluating current strategies used to reduce the public health risk posed by the consumption of spices, identify additional strategies that could be used, and identifying critical gaps in the data we currently have available to us.
- What did the risk profile find?
The draft risk profile determined that the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a systemic challenge and that the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Spice shipments from 79 countries were examined for Salmonella, and we found that 37 of the 79 countries had Salmonella-contaminated shipments, indicating that contamination of spice shipments with Salmonella is not limited to just a few source countries. Spice shipments offered for entry into the U.S. had an overall prevalence for Salmonella of approximately 6.6 percent during the 2007 to 2009 fiscal years, about twice the average prevalence of all other imported, FDA-regulated foods. We also found that approximately 12 percent of the spice shipments offered for entry to the U.S. during a three-year period (FY 2007 to FY 2009) were adulterated with filth such as insects and animal hair, which can result from inadequate packing or storage conditions.
However, we noted in the study an important data gap in that we were missing key information about the level of contamination of spices at retail in the U.S. When we began conducting the risk profile, we asked the public for any data but did not receive information about contamination rates at retail. Because many imported spices are treated after entry to the U.S. to reduce contamination before they are sold to consumers, we knew that the 6.6 percent contamination rate found at the import level did not reflect what was actually reaching consumers. We needed retail data to better evaluate the true risk to consumers.
- Do you now have the retail data?