Scary Spice: FDA’s Recent Scrutiny on Spices Overblown?

by Heather Callaghan

Spices have become lauded for their many health benefits in recent years.

You can use them to simply doctor up your foods if you don’t have time or money for diet overhaul or supplements.

They can be purchased at incredibly reduced prices in bulk at health food stores and ethnic food shops.

It is true that most of these spices are imported and with imported foods there is always some risk. But is that to say that any major fear at this time is warranted? Probably not. Especially when you consider the actual numbers out from the FDA and consider the standards they implement on our own food and drug system here in the US. For instance, deaths implicated from a contaminated spice are extremely rare, yet FDA-approved drugs kill thousands of people annually.

Food Safety News is reporting on the FDA’s recent attention to spices which scrutinizes them for containing “filth”, insects, insect excrement, hair and other materials. But when you actually dig into the numbers you might ask – Why is this even a report? And why are you even reporting on this, Callaghan? Call me a little scared, but the FDA’s scare-mongering is more of a signal to me of what they plan on going after next. They really don’t like this whole idea of food, herbs, and spices reversing disease now that people are catching on to the incredible benefits of spices like turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon.

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Along with citing “filth” the FDA found some incidents of salmonella. The focus of the FDA’s risk assessment centers on global testing of outbreaks between 1973-2010. In that time there were 14 outbreaks, 128 hospitalization, under 2,000 people sickened with allegedly two deaths (0.1%). This is almost a 40-year period, people!

This is across the globe – so each country listed averages about 1 outbreak in 40 years. Three in the UK and three in the US. The FDA also acknowledges the low risk involved with spices because such little amounts are used and not always often. But they are taking action!

Some of the spices listed include peppers, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, anise, nutmeg and many more. The healing benefits of these spices cannot be understated.

Because of traditional harvesting practices in other countries it is not entirely uncommon to find bugs or hairs in the end product. In Sri Lanka, for instance, traditional practices for handpicking and drying tea leaves (not a spice) are preferred and keep family businesses going. It reduces waste – they can find the white tea leaves on top of the green tea plants, for example. This is why boiling and cooking are preferred for preparation. If they had to suddenly switch to industrial machinery or other regulatory mandates, it is doubtful these families could afford it or afford the waste. Industrialized farming lends itself to outbreaks which might explain some of the salmonella cases.

Again, this not a major alarm especially since people aren’t keeling over dead from McCormick’s cinnamon. Additionally, most people know by now, that the FDA has an allowable limit for excrement in foods as common as chocolate bars. Yum! So it sounds like poop is okay in most of what we eat but not in spices because…there wasn’t a standard in place? I’m not defending excrement in food by the way, but…it happens.

This below might have something to do with why I see spices up for impossible regulations and possible bans:

The agency also stated that it is taking steps to strengthen spice safety through a training center focused on supply chain management for spices and botanical ingredients, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules on preventive controls for human food facilities, and foreign supplier verification programs for importers.

Bingo. They are taking steps to intervene based on that report. And it’s over 200 pages long. Nearly a billion tax dollars have gone into funding the Food Safety Modernization Act which will heavily impact our food system and rising grocery prices. Millions have been used by the FDA to execute sting operations on Amish raw dairy farmers while giant food companies in the US continue to sicken consumers, leading to deaths. Meanwhile our FDA and USDA standards for imports continue to drop to encourage more business.

The Tasty Way to Improve Your Diet - Organic Goji BerriesYes, we are going to be shipping factory-farmed chicken over to China so it can be processed and sent back – and inspection standards are dropping to save money. But what they have just said about the FSMA above is very telling – those “rules” they speak of could include bans, impossible regulations for other countries to follow which might impact: their supply, their prices and our supply, our prices.

I don’t think it’s too outside the realm of possibility for the FDA’s absurd, sudden scrutiny towards spices having more to do with actually preparing to put a crimp on consumers having more health-inducing spices in their homes….

You can read the FDA’s risk profile on spices: HERE. It’s difficult not to laugh when you see what conclusions they are trying to draw about “scary spices.” What wouldn’t be funny is a world without access to them.

Please get closer in touch with your food sources:

20 Places to Find Local Food and Family Farms Near You

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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