The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that, over a three-year period, almost 7 percent of imported spices were found to be contaminated with salmonella.
On Wednesday the agency released a report on spice testing between 2007 and 2010. Spices were twice as likely as other inspected foods to be contaminated with salmonella, the Associated Press (AP) reports, and the FDA detected 80 different types of salmonella.
The agency undertook the study after several spice-related salmonella outbreaks caused illnesses around the world. Hundreds became ill in 2009 and 2010 from tainted black pepper and red pepper from India, Vietnam and China used in salami. The FDA says there have been 14 known outbreaks around the world since 1973, causing almost 2,000 illnesses, many of which affected children, according to the AP.
In the three-year report period, the FDA says, 749 spice shipments were refused entry into the United States because of salmonella contamination while 238 other shipments were denied because of the presence of insects, excrement, hair or other foreign materials.
Some the contaminated spices detected at the border were later cooked or treated to eliminate possible pathogens, so the salmonella was likely eliminated by the time the spices were eaten, according to the AP. Because spices are generally eaten in small quantities, they are less likely to cause illness than other tainted foods. But the FDA remains concerned about potential contamination because most spices eaten in the United States are imported and the producer countries have varying, sometimes limited, levels of food safety oversight.
The most common salmonella symptoms—diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever—usually appear within eight to 72 hours of exposure. Chills, headache, nausea and vomiting may also occur. The illness usually runs its course within seven days but sometimes becomes severe enough to require hospitalization. Salmonella infections are especially dangerous for children under five, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).