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Posted February 17, 2018

FDA Reports Prevalence of Salmonella In Retail Spices

An FDA study of 11 different types of spices sold in retail stores throughout the U.S. found the prevalence of Salmonella contamination to be less than 1%. Overall, this was significantly lower than when the same types of spices were tested at the time of import to the U.S. and the prevalence of contamination was found to range from 1.7 to 18%. This suggests that for most of the spices tested, treatments used by food manufacturers to reduce Salmonella contamination in imported spices before they are packaged for retail in the U.S. can work well. However, the prevalence Salmonella contamination in two types of spices, dehydrated garlic and basil, was not lower in retail samples compared to contamination at the time of import. The findings are published in the November 2017 issue of the Journal of Food Protection.

Testing included a total of 7,250 retail samples of packaged (dried) spices offered for sale at U.S. retailers, including : basil leaf (whole, ground, crushed or flakes), black pepper (whole, ground or cracked), coriander seed (ground), cumin seed (whole or ground), curry powder (ground mixture of spices), dehydrated garlic (powder, granules or flakes), oregano leaf (whole, ground, crushed or flakes), paprika (ground), red pepper (hot red pepper, e.g., chili, cayenne; ground, cracked, crushed or flakes), sesame seed (whole, not roasted or toasted, not black), and white pepper (ground or cracked). The samples were collected between October 2014 to March 2015 from national and regional supermarkets, independent and small-chains stores, local and ethnic grocery stores, discount and variety stores, and online stores throughout the U.S.

Among the retail samples, the prevalence of Salmonella contamination was highest among ground red pepper, ground coriander, and dehydrated garlic (0.64%, 0.56% and 0.49%, respectively), although, as noted above, prevalence of contamination for all samples were found to be below 1%. None of the retail samples for cumin seed (whole or ground), sesame seed (whole, not roasted or toasted, and not black), and white pepper (ground or cracked) were found to be contaminated with Salmonella. There was no significant difference in Salmonella-positive rates between organic and conventional spices.

Salmonella is an organism that has been linked to fatal infection in young children, frail or elderly adults, and people with weakened immune systems. In healthy adults, Salmonella can produce fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare cases, Salmonella infection can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. According to the FDA, Salmonella is the most common cause of illness associated with the consumption of contaminated spices.

ConsumerLab.com's Review of Cinnamon Supplements and Spices includes tests of organic and conventional cinnamon spices for contamination with Salmonella, as well as for filth and heavy metal contamination, amounts of coumarin (a potential carcinogen).

ConsumerLab.com tests of turmeric spices in 2013 found no contamination with Salmonella, but its most recent Review of Turmeric and Curcumin Supplements and Spices found a number of turmeric spices to exceed contamination limits for filth.

To see the FDA's complete study, use the link below.