Current pathogen control measures in spices may not adequately protect public health, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The agency has completed a draft risk profile on pathogens and filth in spices due to outbreaks caused by the consumption of Salmonella-contaminated spices in the US.
It will be published in the Federal Register on Monday (4 November) and comments are open for 60 days.
FDA said it was in response to a large outbreak of Salmonella Rissen infections in 2008 to 2009 associated with ground white pepper and in 2009 to 2010, a larger outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo infections linked to products containing black and red pepper.
It formed part of a three-year FDA study that spice shipments into the US had double the Salmonella contamination compared to other imported foods .
A risk profile is a document that describes the current state of knowledge, describes mitigation and control mechanisms and identifies critical knowledge gaps.
It intends to provide information for FDA risk managers to use in regulatory decision making related to the safety of spices in the food supply.
Failures in the system
Failures identified in the farm-to-table food safety system potentially leading to adulteration of consumed spice arose from poor/inconsistent application of appropriate preventive controls.
FDA identified 14 spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks worldwide from 1973 to 2010, resulting in less than 2,000 reported human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations.
The number of outbreaks may be attributable to preventive controls by the spice and food manufacturing industries, including pathogen reduction treatments and cooking during preparation.
Progress so far
The agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) is working to develop a training center focused on supply chain management for spices and botanical ingredients.
FDA experts have provided food safety training in India, a leading country of origin for US spice importation.
It has also proposed a rule on preventive controls for human food facilities and another on foreign supplier verification programs for importers under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
For the draft risk profile, "spice" means any dried aromatic vegetable substances in whole, broken, or ground form, except for substances which have been regarded as foods, whose significant function is seasoning and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed.
Dehydrated onion and garlic and other dehydrated vegetables are used as seasoning to be spices.