Experts Recommend Buying Spices Packaged In The U.S.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Bugs, hair and staples have all been detected in spices imported into the United States in recent years, according to a new report out from the Food and Drug Administration.

In a report released Wednesday, the FDA says that almost 7 percent of imported spices over a three-year period were contaminated with salmonella.

Testing of imported spices between 2007 and 2010 also showed that spices were twice as likely as other inspected foods to be contaminated with salmonella. More than 80 different types of salmonella were detected.

As CBS 2’s Tamara Leitner reported, there are some ways consumers can avoid the contaminated spices.

Dino Karamouzis sells just about every type of spice imaginable at his Midtown grocery store but said he was unaware of the new FDA study.

“No, not these spices. It’s all excellent,” he told Leitner.

According to the FDA, about 12 percent of spices imported into the U.S. are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects and rodent hairs.

“I’m concerned, of course. This my life,” Midtown resident Sarah Fuentes told Leitner.

“But what are you going to do, eat your food without spices?” Hoboken resident Gail Gold added.

The FDA says that during the three year period, 749 shipments of spice were refused entry into the United States because of salmonella contamination while 238 other shipments were denied because of the presence of what the FDA calls “filth” – insects, excrement, hair or other materials.

Public health expert and NYU professor Marian Nestle has some concern.

“This isn’t an overwhelming problem, but it’s a problem,” Nestle told Leitner.

The report says spices are produced by a wide variety of agricultural practices, including “on very small farms where farm animals are used to plow, crops are harvested by hand, and spices are dried in open air.” All of these practices have potential for animal, bird or human contamination. Off the farm, spices from the small farms are often combined, sold to exchanges or packing companies, or stored for years, increasing the chances that they are temporarily in unclean circumstances.

Spices arrive in the U.S. two different ways: in bulk and already packaged for sale.

Imported spices that come in bulk are usually treated by food manufacturers before they’re packaged and put on grocery store shelves.

“There’s a big difference between what’s coming in that would be ready to go to a store shelf that what we think FDA should focus on and what’s coming in as a raw agricultural commodity,” Cheryl Deem with the American Spice Trade Association said.

Consumers may not know the difference, but store and restaurant owners certainly do.

“We know where we are buying our spices from,” Curry In A Hurry owner Sayedul Alam told Leitner.

According to the FDA, few people have actually gotten sick from imported spices. Your best best is to stick to spices packaged here in the U.S., Leitner reported.

According to the study, much of the knowledge and technology to reduce contamination exist but are often not used. It surmised that problems arose because of generally unhygienic conditions, including the failure to limit animal and insect access to food and not taking steps like irradiation to kill any potential pathogens.

The report said that better training across the spice supply chain would be one way to reduce illnesses.

Experts note that because the amount of spices consumed in any dish is relatively small, there is less chance of getting sick from contaminated spices than other contaminated foods.

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