By Anna Edney
WASHINGTON — Insect fragments and animal hairs taint 12 percent of imported spices, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.
The FDA said it looked at the safety of spices after outbreaks involving the seasonings. The agency also found pathogens in the spices, including salmonella, and suggested the spice industry look at options to mitigate risk including training to stress preventive controls.
"Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions," the draft report said. "The presence of rodent hair without the root in spices generally is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces."
FDA's study identified 14 outbreaks involving spices from 1973 to 2010 that resulted in 2,000 people reporting illnesses worldwide. The small number of outbreaks in contrast to the high prevalence of filth and bacteria may be a result of people using a small amount on their food or cooking the spices, as well as safety measures taken by the industry, the agency said.
The FDA sampled 2,844 imported dry spice shipments from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2009 and found about 7 percent tested positive for salmonella, twice the rate of other FDA regulated food products, the agency said in the report. The agency found the highest prevalence of salmonella in leaf-based seasonings like basil and oregano and identified Mexico as the country with the highest percent of exports of contaminated spices, followed by India.
The U.S. is one of the largest importers of spices with more than 80 percent of the supply provided by other countries, the FDA said. About 400 people in the U.S. die from salmonella poisoning each year and 42,000 cases are reported annually, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said underreporting may make the actual number of cases about 29 times higher. The infection can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps.