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FDA takes steps to strengthen spice safety

  |   Oct. 31, 2013 at 2:59 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- In response to recent outbreaks from Salmonella-contaminated spices, U.S. health officials completed a draft risk profile on pathogens and filth in spices.

"The study's findings suggest the presence of pathogens, such as Salmonella, and filth in spices is a systemic challenge. Failures identified in the farm-to-table food safety system potentially leading to adulteration of consumed spice generally arose from poor/inconsistent application of appropriate preventive controls," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

"The study identified 14 spice/seasoning-associated outbreaks worldwide that occurred from 1973 to 2010, resulting in less than 2,000 reported human illnesses and 128 hospitalizations worldwide."

The relatively small number of outbreaks identified may be attributable in part to the application of preventive controls by the spice and food manufacturing industries, including pathogen reduction treatments, and cooking during food preparation, the FDA said.

People's tendency to eat small amounts of spices with meals generally lowers the probability of illness from contaminated spices relative to similarly contaminated foods consumed in larger amounts.

It is also possible that illnesses caused by contaminated spices are underreported, particularly because of challenges related to attribution for minor ingredients in multi-ingredient foods.

The risk profile identifies the most commonly occurring microbial hazards and filth in spices and quantifies, where possible, the prevalence and levels of these adulterants at different points along the supply chain. It also identifies potential sources of contamination throughout the farm-to-table food safety continuum and evaluates the efficacy of current mitigation and control options designed to reduce the public health risk posed by consumption of contaminated spices in the United States.

The FDA has a number of regulatory standards and programs in place that help prevent contaminated spice from reaching consumers and these are described in the risk profile, the statement said.

In addition, the agency is taking steps to further strengthen spice safety. The FDA has increased inspections of spice manufacturing facilities in recent years and has begun to implement some of the options presented in the risk profile.

For example, the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is working with several partners to develop a training center focused on supply chain management for spices and botanical ingredients. As part of this program, FDA experts have provided food safety training in India, a leading country of origin for U.S. spice importation, the statement said.

The report concluded with a list of knowledge gaps and the research needed to fill them. The FDA seeks comments on this draft document, which can be submitted via the Federal Register.

More information on the proposed rules can be obtained at: www.fda.gov/fsma.

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