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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Vegetables and Herbs > Spices Linked to Salmonella Contamination

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Spices Linked to Salmonella Contamination

Suzanne Driessen

Is Salmonella lurking in your spice cupboard? 86% of U.S. households use dried spices. Most are imported. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found 12% of imported spices contaminated with pathogens like Salmonella or were filthy with insect parts or animal hair. Contamination was found in ground, cracked and whole spices. Coriander, basil, oregano, sesame seeds, pepper, cumin and curry powder were most commonly contaminated.

Birds, animals, and humans can be infected or carry Salmonella spp. Contamination can occur anywhere during the production chain from contaminated fields, harvest containers, storage areas and production line workers.

Salmonella can cause serious illness and even death. Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps develop 12 to 72 hours after infection and can last 4 to 7 days. Children under the age of four, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of illness. It is the most common foodborne pathogen.

What can be done to make spices safe? Post-harvest methods such as irradiation, pasteurization and gas ethylene oxide destroy Salmonella and other bacteria in spices. However, labeling of these treatment methods is not required. Freezing does not kill Salmonella but heating to 160 degrees F does. Food companies purchasing spices and the producers of spices are implementing strategies for safer spices.

Take home message


Burden, D. (October 2013.) Spice Safety. Iowa State University

Schnirring, L. (October 31, 2013.) FDA report says 12% of imported spices tainted. CIDRAP, University of Minnesota

Zuraw, Lydia. (September 9, 2013.) Food Safety News

Reviewed by Suzanne Driessen 2015

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