Contamination status of condiments
The need of monitoring
Many alerts from European Countries via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) over the past years included spices and herbs, indicating the need of monitoring this commodity. A number of approximately 2,000 of more than 35,000 notifications within the RASFF portal contained reports concerning mycotoxins, (pathogenic) microorganisms and further contaminants in herbs and spices leading to the 4th rank of all registered categories.
Herbs and particularly spices have always been valuable commodities and are therefore often subject to adulterations. As quality parameters of different spices (e.g., paprika, chilli or saffron) focus primarily on colour and flavour, the analysis of chemical contaminations of spices and herbs is an important issue in terms of preventive consumer protection. Chemical dyes are sometimes added to spices to intensify and maintain its colouring over time, although this kind of adulteration is not allowed and in some cases has also relevance for consumers’ health. Besides, chemical residues from pesticides are also of concern and were detected in spices and herbs in the past.
Several studies have been conducted on the microbiology of spices and herbs. It has been demonstrated that these commodities can contain important and potential foodborne bacteria and toxigenic moulds like Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus and aflatoxigenic Aspergillus. In total up to 100,000,000 colony forming units per gram raw material can be found in spices and herbs.
Some microorganisms, such as Salmonella spp., survive in dried products like spices over a long period of time due to tolerance to high desiccation stress. Between 2008 and 2010, three major outbreaks with about 1,800 diseased persons in the USA were attributed to the consumption of Salmonella-contaminated Jalapeno and Serano peppers. In 1993, an outbreak of salmonellosis with approximately 1,000 cases occurred in Germany and was traced back to contaminated paprika in paprika-chips. Furthermore, salmonellosis has been linked to the consumption of food flavoured with black and white pepper, chilli, turmeric powder, basil and aniseed containing tea. Citrobacter freundii was associated to an outbreak originating from green butter containing contaminated parsley. Also bacterial spores might survive over a long period of time in dry products. Clostridium botulinum was found to be responsible for outbreaks related to spices in oil or mustard.