The Spice of Life

The United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) latest report may have you reconsidering a positive response to “would you care for fresh pepper?” at your next dining out experience.  A three-year long study by the FDA reveals that imported spices are an unexpected source of salmonella poisoning.  Over the course of the study, the FDA found that salmonella contamination in spice lots averaged double that found in other imported food products.  This is an alarming statistic posing a potentially serious risk to the health and safety of our nation.

With 326 metric tons of spices imported annually, which is more than 80 percent of the country’s total supply, the United States is a leading player in the international spice market.  The largest percentage of imported spice to the United States comes from India, accounting for almost one-quarter of all spices in our nation.  Given these facts, it seems that both the governments of India and the United States would have a vested interest in insuring the safety of the international spice market.

For centuries Indian farmers have grown and harvested spices using traditional methods not necessarily in keeping with modern practices.  Recognizing the need to protect the country’s lucrative spice exportation business, the Indian government is helping farmers adapt traditional farming techniques to modern methods which minimize exposure to contamination.   This move on the part of the Indian government comes in the wake of recently adopted FDA rules.  The new guidelines empower the FDA to restrict food imports based solely on suspicion of contamination as opposed to actual test results.

Protecting the world’s food supply from life-threatening contaminates like salmonella should be an international priority.  Insuring that food is safe for human consumption is a basic premise to which the global community should ascribe.  While the new FDA rules will help the United States stem the tide of contaminated imports, it seems that the time is ripe for development of international protocols which will protect imported food supplies world-wide.  The Indian and United States governments have a unique opportunity to pioneer practices that can serve as model international policies and/or regulations on food safety.  With all the unrest in the world it would be nice to know, at the very least, that our food supply is safe.

What are your thoughts?  How important is insuring that the dash of oregano on your pizza or the shake of pepper on your salad meets international standards for food safety?  Or do the FDA’s guidelines provide sufficient protection?  Should the United States and India take the lead on developing international policies governing food safety?

Source:  New York Times

Picture:  New York Times


  1. This is an extremely important international issue which must be moved to the center stage. Every single cuisine throughout the world uses spices to enhance the flavor of foods. Regulation not only of spices, but of all food that is imported and exported internationally is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone. The fact that the United States is such a huge importer and exporter of international spices and food, creates an almost necessary duty for them to take lead on this important issue. The U.S. consists of people from all over the world and from all different ethnicities and protecting them from harmful bacteria and contaminants in food should be a top priority. Eating is a passion for so many people and when this passion is disrupted by contaminated food, it creates an unnecessary negative perception of that passion. Therefore, ensuring international food safety should be a top priority not only for the United States, but for the entire world.

  2. I find this article to be particularly disturbing. You often hear of staple foods such as spinach, yogurt, or meat, being recalled due to contamination problems, but spices? It’s amazing how much we put in our bodies without thinking about the journey the item has made from the field to the plate. As the world’s population has exploded over the past few decades, thanks to medicine and modern invention, the world’s farmers have struggled to keep up food production. It comes as no surprise that the safety regulations currently in place might not be efficient enough to protect us. I would like to know more about how the FDA plans to integrate the “new guidelines” to “restrict food imports based solely on suspicion of contamination as opposed to actual test results.” How can one determine if a food, or in this case, a spice, is contaminated and dangerous for human consumption without test results?

  3. I must say that this news comes as quite a surprise. I would not expect spices we see on our tables everyday to be commonly susceptible to contamination such as Salmanella. The new FDA guidelines do seem to heighten the standards for importation of food products being that they can restrict an item based solely on suspicion. It may not be possible to achieve test results for every product brought into the country. Such an allowance is quite a broad grant of discretion to the US government but I think a necessary one. We can’t allow items into our country that can harm our citizens, and if their is a suspicion that an imported food product was not cultivated under proper standards, it should not be allowed in. I do hope that the United States and India can blaze a trail for international compliance in this arena and can serve as an example for other bilateral relationships to draw from.

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