You don’t want to know what’s hiding in your spices

Spice girls.
Spice girls.
Image: Reuters/Parth Sanyal
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If you use everyday spices such as pepper, parsley and paprika, you could be sprinkling more on your food than you bargained for.

Twelve percent of spices imported to the US are soiled with insects (both live and dead), animal excrement, rodent hairs and a range of other unappetizing materials, according to a new report by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The study was prompted by several spice-related outbreaks in recent years, including hundreds of illnesses in 2009 and 2010 caused by black pepper and red pepper from Vietnam and China used in salami. In 2007, seasoning mix and broccoli powder from China used to coat snack puffs led to 87 illnesses, including eight hospitalizations, in the US.

The FDA found that almost 7% of spice shipments to the US between 2007 and 2009 contained Salmonella—even those that claimed to have been combed for infectious agents. Unlike a lot of other foodstuffs, spices have to go through various stages of processing and packing at multiple locations, which makes them more likely pick up filth along the way. The dryness of foods such as spices also offer helps them harbor Salmonella—which affects around 1 million people a year in the US—because it can survive for more than a year in low-moisture environments.