WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration says that almost 7 percent of imported spices over a three-year period were contaminated with salmonella.
In a report released Wednesday, the FDA says testing of imported spices between 2007 and 2010 showed that spices were twice as likely as other inspected foods to be contaminated with the pathogen. More than 80 different types of salmonella were detected.
The agency decided to study the issue as several spice-related outbreaks have caused illnesses around the globe. In 2009 and 2010, black pepper and red pepper from India, Vietnam and China used in salami caused hundreds of illnesses. The FDA says there have been 14 known outbreaks around the world since 1973, causing almost 2,000 illnesses, many of which were in children.
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.
The agency said that some of the spices that were found contaminated at the border were later cooked or treated to eliminate possible pathogens, so much of the salmonella was likely gone by the time the spices were eaten. The agency also noted that the amount of spice generally eaten at a meal is small, meaning people have less of a chance of getting sick from a contaminated spice than a contaminated fruit or vegetable, for example.
Still, the agency has targeted spices because their route to a diner's plate is so circuitous and the potential for contamination comes at many different points. Most all of the spices eaten in the United States are imported, and most come from small farms in a variety of countries that all have different levels of food safety oversight.
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