At the 2007 IAFP annual meeting in Florida, CDC foodborne illness outbreak guru Robert Tauxe told symposium audience that the next big thing for food safety was low-moisture ingredients. Salmonella is hardy, especially when stressed through drying, so it sticks around for a while. It might not grow much without available water, many low-moisture foods are also high-fat which protects the pathogen in the gut and leads to a lower mean infectious dose. Tauxe’s comments were post- Salmonella Tennessee in Peter Pan peanut butter and pre- Salmonella Wandsworth in Veggie Booty (and other outbreaks) and he talked about dried spices and flavorings and peanut butter-type products
like hummus and tahini.
FDA has been evaluating risks associated with dried spices and yesterday released a draft risk profile of pathogens (like Salmonella) and filth (like insect parts).
The risk profile identifies the most commonly occurring microbial hazards and filth in spices and quantifies, where possible, the prevalence and levels of these adulterants at different points along the supply chain.
The study identified 14 spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks worldwide that occurred from 1973 to 2010, resulting in less than 2,000 reported human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations worldwide.
The relatively small number of outbreaks identified may be attributable in part to the application of preventive controls by the spice and food manufacturing industries, including pathogen reduction treatments, and cooking during food preparation. People’s tendency to eat small amounts of spices with meals generally lowers the probability of illness from contaminated spices relative to similarly contaminated foods consumed in larger amounts.
According to the New York Times, the draft report frames a variety of issues facing the dried spices industry.
The agency’s findings “are a wake-up call” to spice producers, said Jane M. Van Doren, a food and spice official at the F.D.A. “It means: ‘Hey, you haven’t solved the problems.’ ”
The agency called spice contamination “a systemic challenge” and said most of the insects found in spices were the kinds that thrive in warehouses and other storage facilities, suggesting that the industry’s problems result not from poor harvesting practices but poor storage and processing.
John Hallagan, a spokesman for the American Spice Trade Association, said Wednesday that he had not seen the report, so he could not comment on it. But spice manufacturers have argued in the past that food manufacturers often treat imported spices before marketing them, so F.D.A. findings of contamination levels in its import screening program do not mean that spices sold to consumers are dangerous.