We may be spicing our food with salmonella, according to a new report. About seven percent of spices tested by the US Food and Drug Administration were found to be contaminated with the deadly bug. Here's what you need to know.
According to a report in the New York Times last week, a study of more than 20,000 food shipments found that spices contained about twice the average salmonella contamination of all other imported foods. Plus certain spices had higher rates of contamination -- some 15 per cent of coriander and 12 per cent of oregano and basil shipments were contaminated. Other high levels were found in sesame seeds, curry powder, and cumin. Ground and cracked spices were slightly more likely to be contaminated than whole spices. The research was published in the June issue of the journal Food Microbiology.
National Public Radio (NPR) followed the report, citing that you wouldn't need to eat a lot of contaminated spices to get sick. Unfortunately, the microbe can go into hibernation while dry and reactivate in contact with water, perhaps in your stomach, NPR wrote.
But cooking can kill salmonella, as long as you use high heat. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you can kill salmonella at temperatures of 160 degrees F or 71 degrees C.
At this point, there is no requirement that spices be labeled as treated, at least in the US, meaning they've either being pasteurized or treated with ethylene oxide, NPR writes. Even though spice exporters such as India have been trying to improve practices, NPR adds that it might not be enough. "You're not going to change what happens in a farm in India or in the Spice Islands," Theodore LaBuza, a professor of food safety at the University of Minnesota, told the website. "They just don't have the technology for that." After becoming aware of the salmonella risk, he stopped putting rosemary on his salads and opts to use spices in cooking instead.
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Clean Your Carpet
Did you know you can use old spices to freshen your carpet? Believe it or not, they’ll freshen your vacuum, too. <a href="http://www.families.com/blog/what-to-do-with-old-spices" target="_blank">Families.com</a> suggests using spices like rosemary or ginger, and <a href="http://www.stretcher.com/stories/07/07apr02d.cfm?fp#.UaYYyGQ6WiX" target="_blank">The Dollar Stretcher</a> recommends mixing an assortment of spices which could include things like cinnamon, thyme, cloves and nutmeg. Simply sprinkle the spices on your carpet and then vacuum. Just be sure to check to make sure the spices’ colors won’t stain your carpet before applying them to the entire rug.
Instead of reaching for chemical insect killers next time you have a bug problem, first consider letting your old spices take a shot at deterring bugs. <a href="http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/spice-uses#slide-4" target="_blank">The Daily Green</a> reports that spices with strong smells will often keep insects away, so consider spices like pepper, oregano, sage, peppermint and others your new best friends (and an ant’s worst enemy).
Make Spice-Scented Soap
Scented, homemade soaps are becoming increasingly popular, and you’re probably just as likely to come across some at your local farmers market as you are at the mall. One way to use of some of those old spices is to make your own scented soap. Sure, the spices’ scents may be weaker than when you first purchased them, but many of them should still do the trick. To make soap at home, find a recipe like this one for <a href="http://frugallysustainable.com/2013/01/how-to-make-soap-at-home-a-recipe-for-kitchen-coffee-spice-bar-soap/" target="_blank">Coffee Spice Bar Soap</a> from Frugally Sustainable. You’ll be able to put spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves to good use.
Mix Up Paint
Painting with spices may sound a little crazy, but people have made paints at home using a variety of natural pigments throughout history. Plus, because it doesn’t matter much whether paint has an odor, the fact that some of your spices may be way past smelling nice won’t be a big problem. <a href="http://www.learnwithplayathome.com/" target="_blank">Learn with Play at Home</a> blogger Deborah Alter-Rasche put together a simple <a href="http://www.learnwithplayathome.com/2012/08/painting-with-seasoning-and-spices.html" target="_blank">tutorial</a> for how to use spices to make paints with your kids. All you’ll need are some colorful spices – Alter-Rasche used spices like nutmeg, paprika, cinnamon and turmeric – water and containers for mixing, and you’ll have some bright, natural paints.
Keep Animals Out Of The Garden
If hot spices like cayenne and chili powder make your eyes water, that’s probably a sign other animals might have a similar reaction. Next time rabbits, squirrels or other neighborhood critters are eating more of your garden than you are, try sprinkling hot spices to keep them away. Chili powder, red pepper and cayenne pepper all work to keep squirrels away, explains <a href="http://www.gardenguides.com/124954-natural-ways-repel-squirrels-garden-using-spices.html" target="_blank">GardenGuides.com</a>, and none of them will harm your plants. Similarly, hot pepper flakes should <a href="http://home.howstuffworks.com/how-to-keep-rabbits-out-of-garden.htm" target="_blank">keep rabbits away</a> from your greens.
Add To Laundry
What will black pepper do for your laundry? It will keep colors bright and prevent fading, according to <a href="http://www.organicauthority.com/sanctuary/4-natural-ways-to-keep-colors-bright-clothes-laundry.html" target="_blank">Organic Authority</a>. Add a few teaspoons to your load of wash, and you may just be helping extend the life of your clothes.
Make Spiced Candles
For those interested in using spices in homemade crafts, candles are another great way to put your old spices to work. Find a basic candle-making recipe or use one that mentions spices like <a href="http://www.ehow.com/how_5476198_add-fresh-spices-scent-candles.html" target="_blank">this one</a> from eHow.com. Select a nice-smelling spice and add a tablespoon to your candle mixture. For this project, be sure to use ground spices, since whole spices can cause a <a href="http://www.ehow.com/how_5476198_add-fresh-spices-scent-candles.html" target="_blank">fire hazard</a>.
Over time, spices begin to <a href="http://www.thespicehouse.com/info/faq" target="_blank">lose their volatile oils</a>, which makes them less beneficial in cooking. It is possible to get a little more use out of them for food if you know what to do, though. <a href="http://www.thespicehouse.com/info/faq" target="_blank">The Spice House</a> recommends tossing your old spices on your grill. This method of cooking may help release any remaining volatile oils and flavor your food.
Perhaps not surprisingly, spices can neutralize odors, making them a good candidate for freshening up your house. Placing spice-filled sachets in drawers can help eliminate stale odors, according to <a href="http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/spice-uses#slide-5" target="_blank">The Daily Green</a>. Reader’s Digest even suggests using spices to remove unpleasant smells from bottles and thermoses. Follow their <a href="http://www.rd.com/home/12-problemsolving-spices/" target="_blank">instructions</a> to clean your drink containers using dried mustard and cloves. You can also boil spices like whole cloves or cinnamon sticks to freshen your whole kitchen.
If you have whole spices like anise stars, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dill or plenty of others, you can <a href="http://permaculturenews.org/2012/03/15/seeds-from-the-kitchen-cupboard/" target="_blank">try planting them</a> to see if they grow. Since these types of spices were seeds all along, they may germinate, though success may depend on how old those seeds are. (If you’ve had those caraway or mustard seeds in the back of the pantry for the last decade, you may be out of luck.) With any spice, it’s important to store it properly to maintain freshness as long as possible. Storing spices in airtight, glass containers is ideal, and keeping them in the refrigerator can make them last longer as well. Whatever you do, don’t store them above the stove, explains <a href="http://www.thespicehouse.com/info/faq" target="_blank">The Spice House</a>, because the heat will destroy the spices’ oils.