Spice risk: Cilantro and dangerous E. coli

I tell people that spices like cilantro are a significant source of dangerous E. coli and they look at me like I just fell off the turnip truck.

This study sought to model the growth and die-off of Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 along the cilantro supply chain from farm-to-fork to investigate its risk to public health. Contributing factors included in the model were on farm contamination from irrigation water and soil, solar radiation, harvesting, and transportation and storage times and temperatures.

The developed risk model estimated the microbiological risks associated with E. coli O157:H7 in cilantro and determined parameters with the most effect on the final concentration per serving for future mitigation strategies. Results showed a similar decrease in the E. coli O157:H7 (median values) concentrations along the supply chain for cilantro grown in both winter and summer weather conditions. With an estimated 0.1% prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 contamination for cilantro post-harvest used for illustration, the model predicted the probability of illness from consuming fresh cilantro as very low with fewer than two illnesses per every one billion servings of cilantro (1.6 x 10-9; 95th percentile). Although rare, 3.7% and 1.6% of scenarios run in this model for summer and winter grown cilantro, respectively, result in over 10 cases per year in the United States.

This is reflected in real life where illnesses from cilantro are seen rarely but outbreaks have occurred. Sensitivity analysis and scenario testing demonstrated that ensuring clean and high quality irrigation water and preventing temperature abuse during transportation from farm to retail, are key to reducing overall risk of illness.

Evaluation of public health risk for Escherichia coli O157:H7 in cilantro, 16 July 2020

Food Research International

eTaryn Horr and Abani Pradhan



C perfringens in herbs and spices

Clostridium perfringens spores are able to persist under harsh conditions, and thus, are predestined as high risk hazards in the food category dried spices and herbs.

In the present study, C. perfringens spores were produced, and then, screened toward their susceptibility to the antimicrobial activity of nine condiments. While heat activation for induction of spore germination led to a significant increase in recovery by almost 1 log10 colony forming units, the supplementation of germinants was negligible. The enumeration of C. perfringens before heat treatment revealed no detrimental effects by potential antimicrobial active compounds of the condiments. However, after heat activation a significant reduced recovery was determined for cinnamon and allspice in comparison to the control but it was still higher than without treatment. Probably, the heat improved the extraction of compounds inhibiting the germination of the spore and/or the outgrowth of the cell.

Practical applications

This study contributes to the understanding of the production of C. perfringens spores and their recovery from artificially spiked condiments. For an efficient spore production the following four factors are essential with decreasing importance, namely (a) the strain selection, (b) the preparation via a two-step approach, (c) the heat activation, and (d) the supplementation of germination factors. The detection of the actual contamination is of major importance especially for food control institutions. Neglecting the heat activation poses a potential risk for underestimation and false-negatives during food control analyses. Consequently, it is recommended to enumerate before and after heat treatment to detect vegetative cells as well as spores.

Production of Clostridium perfringes spores and their recovery from artificially spiked spices and herbs

1 March 2018

Journal of Food Safety

Philipp Lins

DOI: 10.1111/jfs.12453


Salmonella-laden spices made in a (shag-carpeted) van down by the river

A food company has been fined £4,000 after it supplied a catering firm with a spice mix infected with salmonella.

spices-van-ukWorkers at Catermix, in Syston, UK, blended spices in the back of a dirty, carpet-lined van, and stored the resulting mixtures in a damp garage, before selling them to the catering industry.

Charnwood Borough Council launched an investigation into the now closed down firm after another local authority raised the alarm when it found the bacteria in a batch of tikka spicing supplied to a company in Preston.

The contaminated ingredients were being used in food production, including ready-made sandwiches.

Leicester Magistrates’ Court was told Charnwood environmental health officers discovered that Catermix staff were using the old van as a place to mix spices.

They also discovered the firm was not registered with Charnwood Borough Council as a food business.

Catermix stopped supplying products while the council carried out its investigation.

The Food Standards Agency also had to issue a recall notice for items containing the spice mix. One company had to withdraw more than 6,000 products.

The council said the company’s director, Chhagan (CRCT) Patel, had said he had run the company since 2000 and had worked in the food industry since 1983.

He said he bought the spices from one company, mixed them in the back of the van and then sent them to another company for further processing and bagging.

The spices were then supplied to other companies, including the one in Preston.

Mr Patel said mixing spices in the van was a temporary measure after his previous manufacturer had closed in May 2015.

He said using the van had been a last resort, but he believed the conditions in his storeroom and vehicle were acceptable.

He said he monitored the processes but did not formally record any checks.

Mr Patel accepted he did not carry out any microbiological checks on the final products which he supplied.



Spices have twice the Salmonella of other FDA-regulated imports

In an effort to curb the number of foodborne illness outbreaks in America, the Food and Drug Administration is taking a harder look at packaged spices that are typically found on grocery store shelves.

pepperFDA has announced it is analyzing a recently completed two-year, nationwide study to collect data on the presence of Salmonella in retail packages.

The FDA has introduced new rules, as part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, to “establish preventative controls in the food supply chain.” Through a “risk profile,” the agency determined the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is “a systemic challenge,” and the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Once full analysis of the study has been completed, the FDA will post the results online.

The draft risk profile released in Oct. 2013 determined that the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a systemic challenge and that the problem relates in part to poor or inconsistent use of appropriate controls to prevent contamination. Spice shipments from 79 countries were examined for Salmonella, and we found that 37 of the 79 countries had Salmonella-contaminated shipments, indicating that contamination of spice shipments with Salmonella is not limited to just a few source countries. Spice shipments offered for entry into the U.S. had an overall prevalence for Salmonella of approximately 6.6 percent during the 2007 to 2009 fiscal years, about twice the average prevalence of all other imported, FDA-regulated foods. We also found that approximately 12 percent of the spice shipments offered for entry to the U.S. during a three-year period (FY 2007 to FY 2009) were adulterated with filth such as insects and animal hair, which can result from inadequate packing or storage conditions.

However, we noted in the study an important data gap in that we were missing key information about the level of contamination of spices at retail in the U.S. When we began conducting the risk profile, we asked the public for any data but did not receive information about contamination rates at retail. Because many imported spices are treated after entry to the U.S. to reduce contamination before they are sold to consumers, we knew that the 6.6 percent contamination rate found at the import level did not reflect what was actually reaching consumers. We needed retail data to better evaluate the true risk to consumers.

Basil, nutmeg, recalled cause of salmonella

Recalls of basil in Canada and nutmeg in the U.S. again highlight the food safety risks associated with spices and fresh herbs.

Country Herbs is warning the public not to consume the Country Herbs brand and Longo’s brand Thai Basil because the products may be contaminated with salmonella. These products have been distributed in Ontario.

And in response to a recall commenced by its supplier (Mincing Overseas Spice Company, Dayton, New Jersey), Frontier Natural Products Co-op, is voluntarily recalling two products manufactured with non-organic nutmeg that were sold under the Frontier brand and under the Whole Foods Market brand that contain nutmeg supplied by Mincing Overseas Spice Company.

No one is known to be barfing from either of these recalls.