About 3.4 percent of the 17,508 shipments of other imported food tested positive in the FDA's sampling. The prevalence of tainted spices is about the same as the agency found 30 years ago in a smaller sampling experiment.
The FDA published the data on salmonella contamination in the journal Food Microbiology a year ago and today is warning consumers about the risk. The agency called the findings "surprising" at the time because spices have a low water content compared to other foods.
McCormick & Co., the largest U.S. seller of flavor products by revenue, posted a statement on the quality of its spices and herbs on its website.
"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," the Sparks, Md.-based company said.
Red and black pepper intended for use in Italian deli meats were implicated in a 2010 salmonella outbreak that affected 272 people in 44 states and Washington, D.C., according to the CDC. Pepper falls under the "fruit" category of seasonings, as does cumin and mustard.
Fruit spices were preceded by leaf and root seasonings in prevalence of salmonella. Turmeric and ginger are examples of root spices. Bark or flower spices like cinnamon and saffron had the lowest levels of salmonella prevalence.
Almost 9 percent of 1,057 spice shipments from India were contaminated with salmonella, the FDA said, compared with 14 percent of 136 shipments from Mexico. Canada came in with the lowest salmonella presence at less than 1 percent of its 110 shipments.