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From Health Law Daily, October 31, 2013

Spices relatively safe, but could be safer, FDA says

By Michelle L. Oxman, JD, LLM

After studying the prevalence of dangerous pathogens and filth in spices, the FDA found that the risk of contamination and resulting illness is relatively low, but much higher than the risk posed by other imported foods. Most outbreaks of illness occurred as a result of failure to adhere to good practices at any point in the continuum from farm to table. Restricting animal access to the growing plants and storage spaces, storage in dry, sanitary conditions, and the use of antimicrobial techniques all would help to reduce the risk of contamination significantly. This information was released in a draft risk profile.

Outbreaks of illness. According to the FDA, between 1973 and 2010, there were 14 outbreaks of illness attributed to spices containing pathogens in the following countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, United Kingdom, and the United States. There outbreaks led to 1,946 illnesses reported, 128 hospitalizations, and two deaths. Three of the outbreaks occurred in the United States. Salmonella enterica, subspecies enterica was identified as the cause of ten of the 14 outbreaks and 87 percent of the reported illnesses. The identified cause of 13 percent was Bacillus spp.

Prevalence of contamination. The FDA categorized two types of contamination, pathogens and filth. The latter term includes insects, hair from animals or humans, and animal or insect feces. The most common forms of filth adulteration were insects and rodent hair. Because nearly all spices sold in the United States are imported, the FDA inspected spices offered for entry into the U.S. between 2007 and 2009 and found that on average, 12 percent of shipments contained filth. This percentage was approximately 1.8 times higher than for other imported foods. The FDA found Salmonella to be present in about 6.6 percent of shipments, 1.9 times the average of other FDA-regulated foods sampled during the same period.

Ways to reduce the risk. The three most commonly used methods of removing pathogens are irradiation, steam, and ethylene oxide. Their efficacy depends on many different conditions. The FDA noted, however, that 70 percent of the illnesses were associated with food to which spices had been applied after the last removal process.

MainStory: TopStory FoodNews FoodSafetyNews FoodStandardsNews FDCActNews InspectionNews

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