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12 percent of US spice imports are contaminated, FDA finds

NEW DELHI — About 12 percent of spices brought to the United States are contaminated with insects parts, whole insects, rodent hairs, and other things, according to an analysis of spice imports by federal food authorities.

The finding by the Food and Drug Administration is part of a comprehensive look at the safety of spice imports that has been years in the making. The federal authorities also found that nearly 7 percent of spice imports examined by federal inspectors were contaminated with salmonella. The shares of imported spices contaminated with insect parts and salmonella were twice those found in other types of imported food, officials said.

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The agency’s findings “are a wake-up call” to spice producers, said Jane M. Van Doren, an official at the FDA.

The agency labeled spice contamination “a systemic challenge” and said that most of the insects found in spices were kinds that thrive in warehouses, suggesting that the problems result not from harvesting practices but from poor storage and processing.

John Hallagan, a spokesman for the American Spice Trade Association, said Wednesday that he had not seen the report and therefore could not comment on it. But spice manufacturers have argued in the past that food manufacturers often treat imported spices before marketing them, so FDA findings of contamination levels in its import screening program do not mean that spices sold to consumers are dangerous.

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