Spices grown in the mist-shrouded Western Ghats here have fueled wars, fortunes and even the discovery of continents, and for thousands of years farmers harvested them in the same traditional ways. Until now.
Science has revealed what ancient kings and sultans never knew: instead of improving health, spices sometimes make people very sick, so Indian government officials are quietly pushing some of the most far-reaching changes ever in the way farmers here pick, dry and thresh their rich bounty.
The United States Food and Drug Administration will soon release a comprehensive analysis that pinpoints imported spices, found in just about every kitchen in the Western world, as a surprisingly potent source of salmonella poisoning.
In a study of more than 20,000 food shipments, the food agency found that nearly 7 percent of spice lots were contaminated with salmonella, twice the average of all other imported foods. Some 15 percent of coriander and 12 percent of oregano and basil shipments were contaminated, with high contamination levels also found in sesame seeds, curry powder and cumin. Four percent of black pepper shipments were contaminated…
Mexico and India had the highest share of contaminated spices. About 14 percent of the samples from Mexico contained salmonella, the study found, a result Mexican officials disputed.
India’s exports were the second-most contaminated, at approximately 9 percent, but India ships nearly four times the amount of spices to the United States that Mexico does, so its contamination problems are particularly worrisome, officials said. Nearly one-quarter of the spices, oils and food colorings used in the United States comes from India…
Westerners are particularly vulnerable to contaminated spices because pepper and other spices are added at the table, so bacterial hitchhikers are consumed live and unharmed. Bacteria do not survive high temperatures, so contaminated spices present fewer problems when added during cooking, as is typical in the cuisine of India and most other Asian countries.
…Sophisticated DNA sequencing of salmonella types is finally allowing food officials to pinpoint spices as a cause of repeated outbreaks, including one in 2010 involving black and red pepper that sickened more than 250 people in 44 states. After a 2009 outbreak linked to white pepper, an inspection found that salmonella had colonized much of the Union City, Calif., spice processing facility at the heart of the outbreak…
One more example of how “tradition” often means unhealthy. Dedication to clean conditions during harvest and processing for market can make all the difference in the world to the safety of consumers – with no loss of flavor or function.
RTFA for lots of anecdotal info on the raising of many spices. Interesting stuff. You can never have too much knowledge about what you eat.