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12 percent of spices brought to the United States are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things

From the NY Times:
"About 12 percent of spices brought to the United States are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things, according to an analysis of spice imports by federal food authorities ... [A]lso ... nearly 7 percent of spice imports examined by federal inspectors were contaminated with salmonella ..."


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  1. I watched a documentary years ago about a Korean food company that almost went bankrupt, a firm came in and saved the company. They appointed a woman to to take over as ingredient buyer, she went to China and Thailand where they were buying their spices, she had a hidden camera. Needless to say the places were filthy, she had film footage of workers sweeping the floor and throwing it in the big spice bins. She fired them on the spot and hired a firm from the middle east. Quite an eye opening documentary.

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        I have a bunch of friends who trade cocoa and none of them eat chocolate. There is a permissible level of foreign particulate matter that is specified by FDA rules. Once you see the foreign particulate matter as a undulating body of bugs covering the cocoa pods, you stop eating chocolate. The more you know, the less you want to know...

        1. re: Bkeats

          but you don't eat those pods. A lot happens to what's inside those pods before it gets to the consumer.

          1. re: ChefJune

            Yes, the pods are processed into cake and butter but "foreign particulate" goes along with them and ultimately into the chocolate you consume. My point was that people who I know that are intimately familiar with the cocoa food chain don't eat chocolate because they know too much.

            1. re: Bkeats

              The same is true of grains in the U.S. Lots of bugs and critters end up bloodied and dead (and live, in the case of bugs) during harvesting, ground up in there.

      2. "The shares of imported spices contaminated with insect parts and salmonella were twice those found in other types of imported food, federal food officials said."

        Hmm, so 6% of all other imported food is contaminated with insect parts. Nice. The question is how much insect/rodent matter do they have to find to declare something contaminated. Because I would think that approximately 100% of all bulk spice shipments will contain some small amount of insect parts and rodent hairs.

        1. read this:


          most every dry grocery staple you buy contains insect parts, whole insects, and rodent hairs.

          It's part of life.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sunshine842

            Yes, and probably not as bad for you as some other ingredients we did not evolve alongside. Insects and rodents - hmm, shellfish and meat. Gross, maybe, but not that toxic unless they ate pesticides before they got into the goods.

            In Colin Spencer's book Vegetarianism: a history, he cites an English study that discovered that the reason Jains in the UK were getting sick on a purely vegetarian diet that Jains had been eating and thriving on for many centuries in India - was that the insect parts and rodent hair/urine in Indian grain (and absent in UK grain) supplied sufficient animal content to provide the necessary minerals and B-vitamins, etc. to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

          2. They fail to mention anything about contamination of local produce.

            1. I would dare to say that's probably close to our overall food supply, not just spices.

              1. A good reason not to buy ground spices. Grinding as I need them not only gives me more flavor and makes them last longer, but I know nothing is going in there but what I wanted.

                4 Replies
                1. re: JonParker

                  Whole spice can easily be contaminated with salmonella.

                  1. re: Bkeats

                    More easily than ground spices? (which usually come from whole spices)

                    1. re: DeppityDawg

                      The salmonella starts on the whole spice due to unsanitary handling from the start and then moves down the processing chain. It begins at the harvest. There was an earlier NYT article that dealt with this.


                      1. re: Bkeats

                        Well I really don't do it because I'm a freak about contamination. I do it because ground spices last about six months, whole spices can last for years.

                2. "contaminated" is just another way of saying "additionally seasoned"

                  1. The other 88% is ground so fine you can't tell that they contain ground insect parts, ground whole insects, ground rodent hairs and ground other things.

                    1. Funny I don't read or hear many cheesemongers worry about this sort of thing and with all that mold, bacteria and fermenting going on...

                      Does the roasting process help at all?
                      Do most commodity products fall under this concern (coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, tobacco) ?

                      1. "About 12 percent of spices brought to the United States are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things"

                        That's nothing new. It's been going on for decades. But the part that IS gross is that many companies (can you say McCormick? and all the rest of the high volume spice companies) don't filter all of the "detritus" out before they package it. They're allowed to have (I've forgotten the exact amount) a certain ppm (parts per million) of rodent hair and insect eggs in the cans of spice you see on the shelf in the supermarket!

                        I haven't bought those products for years. Custom spice companies do a better job of cleaning it up than the behemoths.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Same thing with things like caramel corn, cracker jacks, all packaged grains (and I'm not talking imported, but made in the U.S.) They all have a certain ppm that they are allowed to have.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            I pasted the link above to the earlier NYT article. Custom blends don't protect you from the fact that the spice seeds may be contaminated.

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              McCormick has very high standards for cleanliness and purity. I know this for a fact. I used to drink with a bunch of McCormick people since the company I worked for was very close to their plant.

                            2. Did anyone ever read up on how toothpaste is made? Whoa!
                              Bottom line: our bodies are more resilient than we think.

                              1. When I attempt to list the things in life that are worth my worrying over, this particular topic is near the bottom of the list, if I were to make one.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: John E.


                                  Global climate change
                                  Child porn/exploitation
                                  Animal cruelty
                                  Death of our sun (http://io9.com/what-the-death-of-the-...
                                  )Paying for college
                                  Shark attacks
                                  To name a few...

                                2. I think this should be phrased:
                                  "12 percent of spices brought to the United States ARE insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things."
                                  I was always under the impression that 10 % was the legal limit for such.
                                  The only time I ever freaked out a bit was when spices brought in from Bangkok some years ago and placed into nice clear containers, literally came to life on my countertop. Most disgusting!! Luckily nothing escaped and all went into the garbage.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: RUK

                                    That would certainly be news-worthy. And 7% of the spices ARE salmonella bacteria?

                                    1. re: DeppityDawg

                                      I would have no idea about the Salmonella, but surely my spices contained eggs of those common and pesty Pantry moths which started to hatch into nice little larvae....