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Don't worry Canada, our spices are much cleaner, Ottawa says

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All types of spices tested by U.S. food authorities had contaminants. (Photo by www.redorbit.com)

Ever wonder what exactly is in that curry powder or the herbes de Provence tucked away in your spice cabinet?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a multi-year study last week, saying nearly 12 per cent of imported spices to the U.S. are contaminated with everything from live and dead insects to bird parts, animal excrement, staples and synthetic fibres. 

Foreign particles were found in a variety of popular spices and herbs, including basil, mace, mint, mustard seed, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, black and white pepper, allspice and others.

As this was a U.S.-based study, the Star called Health Canada on Monday to ask about contaminants in spices imported here. Health Canada told us to call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

The CFIA responded on Tuesday, saying they routinely test dried spices as a part of Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP). So far, they have not found the same degree of filth as the American authorities.
"The CFIA has been sampling and testing spices for various allergens, chemical residues and microbiology concerns. To date, the results have indicated a high degree of compliance," said Elena Koutsavakis, a media relations spokesperson for the agency, in an email.

For the microbial testing program, a total of 1,434 samples of dried spices were tested between 2009-10 and 2012-13.  Of these, only two came back with positive results for salmonella. In the U.S., more than 80 different salmonella serotypes were isolated from spices in contaminated shipments during the three-year study period.
When asked what the Canadian regulations are concerning contaminants in spices, Koutsavakis said, "food safety is a top priority of the government of Canada. It is illegal for anyone to sell unsafe food in Canada."
There you go. Do you feel safer now? Pass the black pepper.
Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga



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