Report no: 2007: 53
The panel on biological hazards in the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety has conducted a self-initiated risk assessment to focus on a possible coherence between dried spices as a source of infection and intestinal pathogenic bacteria isolated from humans (ie. Salmonella and E. coli) in Norway.
For thousands of years and in most cultures, spices and herbs have been used in food, primarily as a corrective for taste, smell and colour, but partly also for medical reasons.
Spices are produced mainly in tropic and subtropic areas, many of which must be seen as being highly exposed to contamination with intestinal pathogenic bacteria (such as Salmonella and E. coli). In many cases the production methods used, are as they have been for several thousands of years and might hygienically be seen as very unsatisfactory.
Spices can have an antibacterial, preservative effect and at the same time be contaminated with, and thus a source of infection for, intestinal pathogenic bacteria. The consumption of spices in Norway is increasing and today the average is about 0,5 kilo per person a year (2006).
On several occasions dried spices have been seen as a possible source of infection in Norway. During the big Salmonella Oranineburg outbreak in 1982, where probably several thousands, maybe tens of thousands became ill, contaminated pepper was the source of infection.
For other outbreaks in Norway, such coherence has not been proved. The danger of dried spices being contaminated is considerably larger for some spices (such as pepper and paprika) than for others (such as cinnamon and mustard). To what degree “high risk spices” can be a source of infection in the many unsolved sporadic instances, will be impossible to document.
The panel on biological hazards was responsible for the risk assessment.