A dash of pepper can take the bland out of any meal—but before you sprinkle on the spice, you should know this: Some imported spices may contain salmonella, according to a new study published in the journal Food Microbiology.
In the three-year study, conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration, researchers collected random samples of more than 20,000 spices from imported food shipments. They found that seven percent of the sampled spices were contaminated with salmonella: 15 percent of coriander tested positive for salmonella, while only one percent of each white pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg did—the highest and lowest percentages of all the spices collected. Interestingly, three percent of spices that were classified as being treated with pathogen reduction processes still contained salmonella.
How’s that possible? There’s no worldwide regulation that requires all countries to use the same spice treatment process—some countries may heat spices to get rid of contaminations and others may use bacteria-eliminating radiation, says the report. Researchers write that further research into pathogen reduction processes is needed to discover which treatment is the most effective.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if your favorite seasoning or spice is contaminated with salmonella or any other pathogen, says Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who was not part of the study. But it’s important that people recognize salmonella can stem from sources other than meats and poultry.
If you want to take extra precautions, buy packaged spices from brand name labels since organic spices are prone to contain bacteria, says Osterholm. You should also cook your spices with food at 165°F, which should kill any present bacteria, says Osterholm. Cooking spices—and any food for that matter—cuts your risk of contracting a food-borne illness than if they were eaten raw.