Spice rack beware, your seasonings may contain bugs and bat hair

Creative commons photo curtsey flickr user Murtada al Mousawy

A whopping 12 percent of spices imported to the U.S. are contaminated with some type of filth, according to a new report by the FDA. The average for all other FDA-regulated imports is 7 percent.

Worldwide, 14 outbreaks of illness were attributed to dirty spices between 1978 and 2010, resulting in nearly 2,000 sick people and at least two deaths, according to the report. So “in light of new evidence calling into question the effectiveness of current control measures to reduce or prevent illness from consumption of spices,” the FDA took a look at what’s in the spices on U.S. store shelves.

The results aren’t appetizing.

Researchers found Salmonella, Staph and E.-Coli pathogens. They also found insects (live and dead; whole and parts), excrement (animal, bird, and insect), hair (human, rodent, bat, cow, sheep, dog, cat and others), and an assortment of other random materials you don’t want to be eating, like bird feathers, stones, twigs, staples, wood slivers, plastic, and rubber bands.

Whole spices are more likely to be filthy than cracked or ground (15 percent and 11 percent, respectively). Filth was most often found in capsicum (which can be an ingredient in salsas and hot sauces), sesame seeds and seasoning mixes.

While most imported spices come from India (16.1 percent of all 2010 spice imports), Indonesia (14.6 percent), China (10.9 percent) and Canada (7.1 percent), the highest prevalence of Salmonella-contaminated imported spice shipments between 2007 and 2009 came from Mexico (14 percent), India (8.7 percent), Thailand and Vietnam, (5 percent each) and China (4 percent).

It’s estimated 86 percent of American households use fresh or dried herbs, spices and seasonings. The U.S. imports the vast majority of spices, with the exception of dehydrated onion.

H/T Elizabeth Shell