In the past there have been rampant salmonella outbreaks in lettuce, sprouts, and even peanut butter, but now itís time to be wary of a surprising source — your spice rack. In a recently published study by the FDA, high levels of imported spices were shown to be contaminated with salmonella. Around 20,000 shipments were tested between 2007 to 2009, uncovering that a whopping 7 percent of all imported spices tested positive for salmonella.
Fo salmonella contamination to occur, the bacterium (which is passed through the waste products of animals and birds) must be †present in trace amounts on the ground or in the water supply where the spices are grown/harvested/processed. As many spices are laid out on the ground to dry in the sun, the slightest contamination can be more difficult to prevent. Symptoms of salmonella include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that begin between 12 to 36 hours after infected. It can last from three to five days, but infants and the elderly are at much higher risk.
How to avoid it:
Check the origin.You only need to consume small amounts of a contaminated spice to become ill, so it is best to take precautions. According to the study, Mexico and India had the highest rate of contaminated spices (around 14 percent). Interestingly, almost 25 percent of the spices imported into the US come from India, so trying to steer clear of eating raw spices with those origins may be a good idea.
Which spices are the most affected? The highest contaminated spices in the study were basil, oregano, coriander, sesame seeds, curry powder, and cumin. Black pepper shipments also contained salmonella at a rate of 4 percent. The study also showed that, in general, spices derived from bark or flowers were less contaminated than spices derived from seeds or fruit.†If you use these types of spices, be sure to heat them to at least 160 degrees F before consuming.
Grab your mortar and pestle. Ground or cracked spices were found to be more likely contaminated than whole spices, so you are better off grinding your spices fresh at home.
Unfortunately, the FDA hasnít yet required labeling for unpasteurized spices. There are several spice producers out there that use methods such as irradiation, heat, or gas to kill off any harmful bacteria — although the study discovered that spices processed by these methods were still contaminated, albeit in lesser quantities. If you are very concerned and/or have a weakened immune system, it may be best to avoid eating raw spices altogether. Approximately 1.2 million people become ill with salmonella each year in the US and around 23,000 are hospitalized. By taking the proper precautions, you can avoid becoming one of them.