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?

The Kitchen Think: With Limited Government Food Inspections, You Need A New Game Plan


Here’s the good news: PulseNet, a government-run network of public health labs that spots and reports on food borne illness outbreaks, is up and running again, albeit with a skeleton staff, as the shutdown continues.

Now the bad news: More than 300 people in 18 states have been sickened by a salmonella outbreak tied to a California chicken facility… and many of those cases appear resistant to antibiotics.

So here’s some info about what’s going on with food safety inspections during the shutdown (and how you can protect your family).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service is continuing inspections at meat and poultry production facilities with full-time inspectors.

The Food and Drug Administration is the agency actually responsible for the safety of most of the country’s food industry (80%!), including (and especially) imported seafood, produce and food products. The bulk of the FDA inspectors are currently furloughed.

If you buy locally sourced fish, or domestic wild-caught or domestic farmed fish, you’re probably in good shape.

Eighty-percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Without anyone doing the inspections, how do we know what kind of shape that shrimp was in before they froze it in Vietnam?

Farmers’ Markets are still up and running around the country, so stock up on as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. Freeze what you can. You may also want to reconsider that whole canning idea you pooh-poohed in June.

As it gets later in the season, a lot of the supermarket produce, like berries and lettuce, will be brought in from Mexico, Chile and Central America. If the shutdown continues, FDA inspectors won’t be there to make sure the baby spinach is E. Coli-free.

Troubling, confusing and very scary. So… what’s YOUR game plan?


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: