Following a federal report citing insect fragments, animal hair and feces in imported spices, Oklahoma seasoning makers say their products are safe for consumers to use.
Lee Merrifield, head of seasoning maker Daddy Hinkle's, said she is confident the safeguards the company has in place would prevent contaminated spices from reaching supermarket shelves.
“I think we've done due diligence,” she said. “I feel good about it.”
The Food and Drug Administration last week released the report, which looks at pathogens and filth in imported spices.
According to the report, about 12 percent of the spices imported between the 2007 and 2009 fiscal years contained filth, including animal hair and insects, both whole and in pieces. That's nearly twice the average amount for all other imported food the agency regulates.
Nearly all of the insects inspectors found in the samples were “stored product pests,” which indicate improper packing and storage conditions, according to the report.
The report says inspectors also found rodent feces in a small number of the samples.
Merrifield said the Cleveland, OK, company, which makes seasoning mixes and marinades, contracts with other companies to mix its products. Both Daddy Hinkle's and the companies that blend its seasonings undergo health inspections to ensure the products are safe, she said.
The company makes its products in small batches, so they don't sit in warehouses for long, Merrifield said. All of the products the company sells can be traced to their original sources.
“Every spice, everything, has traceability. And that's the way it should be,” Merrifield said. “I feel good about the safeguards that are in place.”
A statement issued Thursday from the American Spice Trade Association acknowledged spices imported into the United States may be grown in tropical or subtropical countries “where sanitation and food handling practices may not always be adequate.”
The group says most of the imported spices come to the United States as raw agricultural commodities and then undergo extensive cleaning and treatment once they enter the country.
Felicia Schaefer, owner of Edmond-based Cedar Hill Seasonings, said the spices the company sells undergo a battery of tests to ensure they don't contain contaminants.
Besides making and selling its own line of spices, Cedar Hill also blends spices and does labeling for smaller seasoning makers in the area. Although its spices come from all over the world, the company only deals with reputable suppliers, Schaefer said.
“We buy from such quality suppliers that everything is screened at least three or four times,” Schaefer said. “We've never had a problem.”