Some spices contain ingredients you won't find in any recipes. The Food and Drug Administration recently found that spices entering the U.S. are nearly twice as likely as the average FDA-regulated foodstuff to contain Salmonella pathogens or unacceptable amounts of filth. Roughly 12 percent of spice imports, which make up the bulk of the U.S. supply, exceeded federal limits on the “maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects,” such as insect body parts and animal hair. In sufficiently small amounts, the FDA reasons, such defects “pose no inherent hazard to health.”
Those limits might seem rather loose—a small, two-ounce jar of paprika must contain roughly 170 insect fragments or 25 rodent hairs to be considered adulterated. But whereas the odd instance of egregious filth involves objects large enough to be spotted by consumers, many contaminants are merely microscopic fragments, according to the FDA.
This article was originally published with the title "Filth in the Spice Rack" in Scientific American 310, 3, 88 (March 2014)