Canadian Spice Products are Far Less Contaminated than US Counterparts. But Buyer Beware!



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Earlier this month the FDA released a report showing extreme filth has been found by inspectors and 12% of imported herbs and spices. US inspectors found everything from mouse droppings and bat hair to insect parts and bird feathers reports the Washington Post.

The Canadian Government has assured the public that spices imported into Canada are much cleaner. “The CFIA has been sampling and testing spices for various allergens, chemical residues and microbiology concerns. To date, the results have indicated a high degree of compliance,” Elena Koutsavakis, a spokesperson for the agency, told the Toronto Star.

For the microbial testing program, a total of 1,434 samples of dried spices were tested between 2009-10 and 2012-13.  Of these, only two came back with positive results for salmonella. In the U.S., more than 80 different salmonella serotypes were isolated from spices in contaminated shipments during the three-year study period.
 
When asked what the Canadian regulations are concerning contaminants in spices, Koutsavakis said, “food safety is a top priority of the government of Canada. It is illegal for anyone to sell unsafe food in Canada.” Yes, and good luck with that.
 
As industry insiders, we have found most of the major spice distributors within Canada, including ourselves (The Epicentre) are extremely cautious. The spice industry employs a variety of equipment to physically clean spices, including air separators, sifters and spiral gravity separators that separate sticks, stones, hair, insects and other debris from the spice.  We have found however that small importing operations can be disturbingly high in contaminants.
 
A simple walk through Kensington Market in Toronto can reveal the problem. We found insect larvae in whole chile peppers and recently-hatched live white arachnids in plastic bags of spices for sale on store shelves. We’ve learned to temper our desire for the exotic with a very high level of quality control throughout our supply chain, requiring constant ingredient analysis and a natural steam pasteurization process.