Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Well, contaminated spices are finally in the news. Congratulations to the New York Times (my daily read) for its front-page lead article entitled "Farmers Change Over Spices' Link to Food Ills."

What the article highlights is Salmonella bacteria in our spices, particularly those imported from India. Spices are increasingly used in all kinds of processed food and drinks in the U.S., by restaurants, and, by those of us cooking great food at home. The very large majority of those spices are imported from countries such as India, Mexico, Egypt and others. It is believed that the U.S. has more than 10,000 consignees who buy imported spices.

A new study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that nearly 7 percent of those imported spices were contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. Furthermore, the FDA now acknowledges that spice is likely to be a common cause of food poisoning, although it is rarely identified as the cause, simply because it doesn't occur to the victims of food poisoning - or, to the researchers.

Of course, if you read The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, you will have known all this - and a lot more. When my publisher first read the draft book, back in early 2010, he was surprised that I included a chapter on herbs and spices. This recent research proves that I was right.

The New York Times article is fairly optimistic about positive change among farmers growing, harvesting and processing such spices overseas, especially in India. Maybe a little too optimistic. A few of the larger ones may adopt more sanitary practices under pressure, but not everyone can afford them. The smaller spice growers (the mom, pop, grandma and kids operations) still tend to dry their spices by the side of a road, and/or, on a dirt floor. As for using rubber gloves - forget it!

And, what the article does not mention is that it is not just a question of bacteria contaminating imported spices. High levels of lead and unhealthy food dyes also sometimes crop up, though not as frequently.

But back to the issue of Salmonella bacteria in your spices - remember, if you cook the spices well in the food, the bacteria will be killed. However, you may want to pass on that chili pepper shaker for your pizza, or the black pepper sitting on the table at the restaurant. Also - as the book advises - to be safer, you would be wise to not buy those loose spices or small cellophane bags of spices at your grocery store and purchase the name brand instead, even though it is much more expensive.

Of course, if your area climate allows, you could try to grow your own chili peppers at least. I had a great crop this year. In fact, I have just returned from delivering some to one of my neighbors.

To your good health,


No comments: