We normally don’t think about what our spices go through before they hit our pantry. But more and more evidence suggests that really nothing in our kitchen is entirely “safe” from contaminants in one form or another. Including your spice cabinet.Plastic, Bug Parts, Salmonella. What's Lurking in Your #Spice Cabinet? Click To Tweet
Our oceans are polluted with tons of plastic. Like literally tons. And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact by 2050, the World Economic Forum expects plastic trash to outweigh fish. That’s insane.
We already know a lot of fish is contaminated with various toxins and heavy metals like mercury. But fish isn’t the only thing from the ocean that makes its way into our kitchens. Humans probably consume much more sea salt than they do fish. And unfortunately, that sea salt is likely contaminated with plastic.
Researchers in Malaysia tested 16 different sea salt brands from eight different countries and found tiny pieces of plastic in all but one. Now keep in mind that these are microplastics; you probably couldn’t even see them unless you had a microscope. And at this point, researchers don’t believe it poses a serious health risk.
I mean, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of plastic we’re exposed to in our daily lives. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problem entirely. Especially since it’s only going to get worse from here.
Bug Parts and Hair
It’s hard to find information on how the inspection and regulatory process for spices differs from that for food. But it’s probably a lot more lax. Especially since in 2013, the FDA decided to initiate the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which intended to implement more direct oversight on the production of spices. From country of origin, to cultivation, to manufacturing and packaging.
This is because an extensive FDA study found a bunch of disgusting things in our spices like rat hair, bug parts, and just other “filth” in general. A lot of the contamination came from unsanitary storage and traveling before the spices were packaged.
The United States imports nearly all of its spices. Many of the spices we take for granted in the U.S. are imported from developing countries. So they might be laid out to dry in the sun on concrete. The FDA only monitors food imported to the US– not cultivation practices overseas. So if there wasn’t a program set-up to monitor imported spices, that means the problem was going largely unchecked. And it was.
For all the reasons listed above, Salmonella is a common pathogen found in spice imports. In fact the recent FDA study found that roughly 7% of all spice imports were contaminated with Salmonella. That’s double the average for other food imports.
Many companies use various sterilization processes in an attempt to assure the consumer is receiving a clean product. But that’s not always the case and it’s unreliable. Plus some more delicate spices like basil and oregano lose flavor if they’re put through high heat.
So the good news is the FDA did try to rectify the problem by developing more oversight. But it’s certainly not fool proof. To stay safe, try to avoid or minimize adding spice to food after it’s already been cooked. Like chicken, heat used during cooking usually kills any salmonella lurking in your spices. Black pepper and sesame seeds seem to be the worst-of-the-worst.