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Corvallis, OR, United States
My personal obsession with prion diseases with smidges of music I like and rescue dog advocacy from a disabled Oregonian.


Never Eat Restaurant-Made Clam Chowder On A Saturday
(and other interesting food safety info.)

Feathers, cigarette butts, cellophane, hair, stems, and dead mice are some of the litter I have found while inspecting spices and herbs at a wholesale spice company in Portland. Herbs and spices are notoriously dirty with what we call in the quality assurance business as "extraneous material". Once a week it was my job to inspect a shipment of herbs and spices from around the world. Different countries have different or limited food safety laws so it was always an interesting task to cut open a burlap sack and pull a sample, take it into the lab and look at it under a steresoscope. Most of the spices were packaged in boxes sealed with packing tape but there was always a pallet or two of spices packaged creatively. Rolled up in cardboard or in an already used box I would inspect cassia bark from China. In a dusty burlap sack I would inspect bay leaves or Mediterranean oregano. Many of the herbs and spices were harvested and dried right off the ground where critters could come a co-mingle with the food product. Carefully using a sterile spoon and a sterile plastic bag I would archive a sample in case our product was ever implicated in a case of food poisoning or infection. So, it did not surprise me when I ran into this article at Susie's.

Recent spice recalls have involved contamination with salmonella, a group of bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Most healthy people infected with salmonella recover within days, but the illness can be serious and even fatal for small children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

The ongoing outbreak of salmonella illness connected to black and crushed red pepper, which sparked a recall of those spices as well as salami products made with them, has been linked to 249 illnesses in 44 states and the District of Columbia. No deaths have been reported.

The long shelf life of spices and their widespread use make it difficult for health officials to detect an outbreak of illness and connect it to a particular spice. WaPo Link

Wholesale spice companies do not have the resources to inspect every box that comes in the warehouse. We only can pull a representative sample which is picked randomly throughout a pallet. The FDA does not have the monetary resources to afford to inspect all the food products being imported. Only 2-3% actually gets inspected. It is up to a company's quality assurance inspectors to make sure the product is fit for human consumption. On one occasion I had to let a batch of gingko biloba be processed even though I had found a dried compressed mouse within the leaves. The sales team pressured me to clean up the product manually and use it to please a new customer. To this day I can not look at a package of pre-made Chai tea without getting nauseous. Urp.

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