The Coming Storm in the Spice Industry, Part II:
What the Industry Can Do
In Part I of this article,1 it was revealed that spices are the subject of increasing recalls for food pathogens. This article focuses on what he industry can do. My perspective is that
nothing short of a world-class food safety system will be adequate for U.S. spice processors
to prevent and survive after such recalls.
I previously showed that spices may be produced under
unsanitary conditions in Third World countries. Very often,
lot identity is lost as shipments move from country to country. International spice trade organizations and the U.S. food
industry should be involved in enhancing lot tracking efforts
and developing and insisting upon appropriate supplier controls, including adherence to Good Agricultural Practices and
compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
In many instances, microbiological control includes a
step, often at the port of entry into the U.S., to reduce the
microbial population in spices, using irradiation, ethylene
oxide, propylene oxide and steam treatments.
However, validation of these techniques is
essential, recognizing that a treatment that
effectively reduces 5–6 log CFU on one spice
may have a different effect on another, due
to differences in the matrix, packing density,
water activity (aw), etc. Niemira2 reviewed the
effects of irradiation, microwave and alternative-energy-based
treatments for low-aw foods, and Grasso et al. 3 reviewed the
impact heat and steam treatments have on such foods.
However, the microbial load on spices may be quite high,
with 3% of dried herbs and spices having Bacillus cereus counts
greater than or equal to 100,000 per gram4 and 1.5% and 1.1%
Salmonella contamination of dried spices and herbs sampled at
retail and production, respectively, out of 2,833 retail samples
and 132 production batches tested.
Lot Selection and Testing for Pathogens
Often, spices are purchased based on lot selection, for
example, testing microbial counts or pathogen presence or
Industry roles and