Spice Health Risks Due to Filth
And Contamination

Article by Diet Bites

Filthy Spices Responsible for Illness

A visit to the emergency room which involves a stomach or intestinal issue generally entails recalling all of the foods consumed over the last 48 hours.

It's vital to identify foods which may have caused the illness - in order to treat the patient and to prevent a possible epidemic in the public which is often the case where tainted restaurant and commercially prepared foods and drinks are involved.

While it might be easy to list solid foods and drinks, the ingredients used for the recipes of these foods can be difficult to identify - particularly when dining out or when a processed food has been part of the meal.

Often, spices are omitted during the investigative process - and filthy spices are commonly the culprit of causing mild-to-serious stomach and intestinal issues and infection.

Types of Microbial Pathogens & Filth Found in Spices - From Excrement to Feathers to Staples

The majority of spices used in America are imported. Dried onion, dehydrated garlic, capsicum and mustard seed are among those most-commonly produced by American farmers.

The FDA reports the following microbial pathogens AND filth which have been detected in the American food chain in spices: salmonella, Bacillus spp. and Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens, Cronobacter spp., Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, live and dead whole insects and insect parts, excrement from birds, animals and insects, hair from humans, cows, sheep, rodents, bats, dogs, cats and other animals, bird barbs, bird barbules, bird feathers, stones, twigs, staples, plastic, rubber bands, synthetic fibers, mold and wood slivers.

The filth is related to how the spices are harvested, the hygienic habits of those who grow and harvest them, irrigation techniques and the presence of animals where spices are grown, harvested and processed.

In imported spices to the United States, the following contaminants have been detected:

Types of Hairs Found in Spices

human, bat, cow, dog, cat, Mammalian, rodent, rabbit, sheep, non-striated and striated.

Types of Insects Found in Spices

Grain mite, foreign grain beetle, coffee bean weevil, almond moth, rusty grain beetle, flat grain beetle, convergent lady beetle, cigarette beetle, Siamese grain beetle, Pharaoh ant, merchant grain beetle, Saw-toothed grain beetle, Indian meal moth, lessor grain borer, granary weevil, drugstore beetle, red flour beetle and hairy fungus beetle.

Other Contaminants & Objects Found in Spices Imported to America

Animal feces, animal hair, insect excrement, bird barbs, barbules, excrement and feathers, rancidity, molds, dirt, paper, plastic, synthetic fibers, rubber band, seeds, staples, sticks, stones, twigs and wood slivers.

Tested Spices for Salmonella

Spices were tested for filth during the years 2010 - 2012 with the following results.

Germany, retail - Sesame Seeds
India, retail - Poppy Seeds, Ginger
Ireland, retail - Chili Pepper, Chili Powder, Curry, Sesame Seeds, Tumeric
Japan, retail - Black Pepper, Red Pepper
Australia, import - Peppercorns, Paprika
Brazil, retail - Black Pepper, Cumin
Turkey, retail - Allspice, Black Pepper, Coriander, Cumin, Ginger, Red Pepper
United States, U.S. Imports - Basil, Black Pepper, Capsicum, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Curry Powder, Fennel, Fenugreek, Mustard, Oregano, Sesame Seeds, Tumeric, White Pepper - and more.
United Kingdom, Retail, Manufacturing & Packaging Plant - Alfalfa, Allspice, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Chili, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Curry, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garam Masala, Mint, Okra, Sage, Sesame Seeds, Spice Mixes & Tumeric.

% of Imported American Spices Containing Salmonella From Country of Origin

The following data is based on the percentage of shipments where Salmonella is present based on FDA tests.

Canada, 0.9%
Indonesia, 2%
Pakistan, 3%
China, 4%
Thailand & Vietnam, 5%
India, 8.7%
Mexico, 14%
All Other Countries, 6%

Spices Which Caused Outbreak Illnesses in the USA

From 1973 to 2010, outbreaks related to spices resulted in two deaths, 1946 human illnesses - that were reported, and there is no idea of how many spice-related illnesses go unreported.

There were 128 hospitalizations related to these outbreaks with children and infants primarily impacted. In 87% of the reported illnesses, Salmonella enterica subspecies was identified as the causative agent.

2007: Pathogen identified as salmonella. Seasoning mix and broccoli powder imported from China which was used to coat a snack puff contained Cronobacter sakazakii on the unopened product, S. Typhimurium and S. Haifa from the finished product in the manufacturing facility and S. Mbandaka from the parsley powder used in the product.

2008 - 2009: White pepper imported from Vietnam with identified pathogen salmonella. Multiple violations were noted at the processing facility.

2009 - 2010: Black pepper imported from Vietnam and red pepper imported from India and China. Salmonella was the identified pathogen. The tainted peppers were in salami.

From 1985 to 2012 the following microbial pathogens were found in these spices.

Salmonella spp.

Ajowan, alfalfa seeds, allspice, anise seeds, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, capsicum, cardamom, cayenne peppers, celery seed, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry leaf, fennel, fenugreek leaves and seeds, garlic, ginger, mace, mint, mustard seed, oregano, parsley, sage thyme, sumac, turmeric, sesame seeds, white pepper, spice mixes and seasoning packages.

Bacillus spp.

Ajowan, alligator pepper, allspice, basil, bay leaf, black pepper, capsicum, caraway, cardamom, celery seeds, chervil, chives, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel seeds, fenugreek, fennel, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, mace, marjoram, mustard seed, nutmeg, onion, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, thyme, turmeric, white pepper - and spice mixes and seasoning packets.

Clostridium perfringens

Ajowan, anise seed, bay leaf, black cumin, black pepper, capsicum, caraway, chives, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mace, mustard seed, nutmeg, onion, oregano, parsley, saffron and white pepper.

Cronobacter spp.

Anise seeds and rosemary.


Ajowan and bay leaf.

Staphylococcus aureus

Asafoetida, black pepper, capsicum, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, and white pepper.

Common Causes of Contamination

Amid the American inspection of spices process, these were the most common causes for citations related to those deemed harmful for human consumption: contamination due to lack of pest control, plant used lacks construction [or is in poor repair] which allows for cleaning of floors, walls and working areas, sanitization of hands is ignored [hand washing & sanitizing], utensils, equipment or implements used allowed food to become contaminated,improper storage which allowed for growth of harmful micro-organisms, non-sanitized food containers, failure to wear protective gear against hair contamination such as beard guards, hair nets, head bands and caps - which also prevent sweat from dripping into food.

In addition to building walls, floors and prep-areas being filthy, fixtures and glass were also filthy. Also, cross-contamination of raw and natural non-raw foods. Refuse concerns are also listed as a common cause for food contamination citations.

In Conclusion

Diet Bites has always recommended adding spices to foods while dieting in order to add flavor and texture to foods. However, after our detailed research, frankly - we don't feel so good about adding them to our own foods anymore, much less encouraging others - particularly imported varieties.


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