The Kitchen Think: Your Spice Rack May Be Contaminated!


Herbs & SpicesJust as we’re all about to make that deep dive into holiday cooking, the Food and Drug Administration says 12-percent of spices brought into the U.S. are contaminated with insects, rodent hairs and who knows what else.

Please… don’t pass the pepper.

The FDA took a hard look at the safety of spice imports and also found that 7-percent were contaminated with the toxic bacteria salmonella (particularly in pepper, sesame seeds and oregano).

The FDA’s report says Mexico and India had the highest amount of contamination. Most of the problems originated in the processing and storage of the spices… not harvesting. Did you know one-quarter of the spices, food colorings and oils used in the U.S. come from India?

So, what can you do to protect your family?

Cooking will take care of the potential for salmonella poisoning, but won’t help with the bits of insects, hair and other detritus.

The BEST solution is to buy whole certified organic spices (like black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.), wash them and grind them at home with an electric grinder. A lot of work, I agree, and not really practical (not to mention expensive).

Another idea is to buy your spices in bulk from reputable spice companies like The Spice House, Frontier Herbs or Mountain Rose Herbs. They tell you exactly where the spices originated so you can make an informed decision as to whether to purchase.

But here’s my question for you: Will the FDA report change how you cook this holiday season?

Kitchen Think: Fed Up With Dannon’s Misleading Labels


There are bugs in some of Dannon’s “Fruit on the Bottom” brand yogurts… and Dannon knows it.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom YogurtBut it’s not the bugs that bother me, it’s the deception. Let me explain.

Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, Mama’s friend from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells me that Dannon uses cochineal beetles as food coloring in its yogurt.

Dead cochineal beetles are dried and pulverized and made into a red extract known as carmine, that goes into Dannon’s Fruit on the Bottom strawberry, raspberry, cherry and boysenberry yogurts. It’s also used in the Oikos Greek Strawberry Yogurt, two flavors marketed under Dannon’s Light and Fit Greek brand line, and six Activia brand yogurts.

Dannon does it to save money by replacing red berries or cherries with the insect food coloring. And I’ll admit that this is MUCH BETTER than using red food dye or other artificial food coloring.

Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Nutritional Facts

My problem is that Dannon doesn’t disclose that the ingredient “carmine (for color)” on the label comes from cochineal beetles. That’s just wrong.

We have the right to know EVERY ingredient in a product, especially since the Food and Drug Administration requires companies to disclose cochineal beetles or carmine in their ingredients (mostly due to allergy issues). But vegetarians should also know that there’s “meat” in their yogurt.

Starbucks went through this last year when the company disclosed that the beetles were used in their Frappuccinos and other beverages. They’ve since stopped using carmine.

Cochineal extract is used in an amazing amount of food products including spices, meats, sausages, jams, gelatins, desserts, icing, juices… the list goes on and on. Fine—just put cochineal beetles in the ingredient list on the side of the package. I know it’s not appetizing, but it IS the truth.

If what Dannon is doing bugs you, sign this petition asking the company to choose berries over beetles!


I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: