Make Our Food Safe

"FDA Report on Filth, Salmonella on Imported Spices Has High 'Ick Factor'"

The Oregonian | Lynne Terry

"When you spice up your food, you may be adding filth with flavor, according to a new report by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA found that 12 percent of imported spices are contaminated with insect parts, rodent hairs, animal feces and other debris like twigs, plastic and rubber bands. Nearly 7 percent of the tests turned up Salmonella.

"Filth is the ick factor," said Sandra Eskin, food safety director at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "But the Salmonella is a clearly identified pathogen."

Though spices account for a small part of anyone's diet, spice-related outbreaks have sickened more than 1,900 people, hospitalized nearly 130 and killed two worldwide between 1973 and 2010.


The FDA cannot keep contaminated spices out of the country under the current system, Eskin said: "If they're lucky, they can inspect up to 2 percent. Testing is much less than that."

About 15 percent of the food Americans eat comes from abroad.

Eskin called on the agency to move quickly to implement proposed rules that would crack down on imported food by making importers responsible for preventing contamination. The rule is one of seven pillars under the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. None has been adopted yet.

 "The goal of new import safety program under the law is to have a much more robust surveillance system," Eskin said. "For first time, it would put the responsibility on importers to ensure the safety of the products they import. That's a big deal."

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