Nearly 12 percent of spices imported into the U.S. each year are contaminated with insects, animal feces, rodent hair, or other contaminants, including feathers and rubber bands, according to a Food and Drug Administration report released Wednesday.
A recent spate of salmonella found in imported spices is what prompted the study. Inspectors found salmonella on ginger and poppy seed from India, black pepper and red pepper from Japan, and allspice from Turkey.
“Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions,” the report reads. “The presence of rodent hair (without a root) in spices is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces.”
The name of the study was “Pathogens and Filth in Spices,” which is about as blunt of a way to say it. ”Filth adulterants” found in spices include insects (live and dead whole insects and insect parts), excrement (animal, bird, and insect), hair (human, rodent, bat, cow, sheep, dog, cat and others), and other materials (decomposed parts, bird barbs, bird barbules, bird feathers, stones, twigs, staples, wood slivers, plastic, synthetic fibers, and rubber bands).
From 1973 to 2010, fourteen reported illness outbreaks were attributed to consumption of pathogen-contaminated spice across Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, United Kingdom, and the United States. These outbreaks resulted in 1,946 reported human illnesses, 128 hospitalizations, and two deaths.
Scary, yes, but probably not enough to keep you from reaching for the pepper.