Spicing up Salmonella

I love Asian food, but I am taking a closer look at the ingredients and how I am using them. The sourcing of herbs and spices will come under the spotlight more frequently in future. The USA imported 326,000 tonnes of spices last year and recent investigations found that several shipments were contaminated with salmonella and those shipments from Mexico (14%) and India (9%) were the more frequent sources of contamination. The same research indicated that some 15% of coriander, 12% of oregano and 4% of black pepper samples were contaminated. In Newcastle upon Tyne a large outbreak at the city’s Spice Street Festival affected 400 people in February this year. The cause was the use of uncooked imported dried curry leaves which were added, without cooking, to the chutney. I suppose some may say that it is of less risk in pre-cooked ready meals because the cooking process will act as an effective CCP. Even if that is the case what are the cross contamination risks from handling that raw ingredient on other parts of the operations? Who would want a known salmonella contaminant sitting in the warehouse? The Indian spices board has started a program to improve the farming of spices by offering grants to encourage the installation of concrete drying platforms, tarpaulins and netting and introducing modern techniques for reducing contamination. In time this will contribute to reducing this risk. In the meantime the identifying and monitoring of assured ingredients sources is certain to continue to be a challenge. In my refrigerator sit two ready meals with at least six spice/herb ingredients listed. If each spice or ingredient came from one farm that’s a decent amount of supplier auditing and supplier risk assessment.