“The highest priority of ASTA is ensuring clean, safe spice for American consumers,” Shumow emphasizes. “The association facilitates food safety in a number of ways, including the development of technical guidance, white papers, research, analytical detection methods, and education.”
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To this point, another ASTA offering is its Check Sample Program, which is proficiency testing designed to evaluate spice laboratories for a common range of analyses that are significant to the spice trade, Shumow explains. “Proficiency testing is the analysis of samples in conjunction with other laboratories testing the same sample type at the same time,” she elaborates. “The program allows individual laboratories to evaluate their performance and set goals for improvement and consistency in analyses.”
Guidance for Industry
ASTA publishes Clean, Safe Spice Guidance, which includes references to FSMA and information related to the FDA’s Reportable Food Registry, Shumow says. “ASTA has worked and continues to work with companies and other associations to disseminate this guidance throughout the supply chain,” she relates. “ASTA also collaborates with organizations in spice-producing regions of the world to provide education and resources on food safety and good agricultural practices for spice farmers and processors.”
Publicly available resources include ASTA’s Identification and Prevention of Adulteration Guidance Document, Good Manufacturing Practice Guide for Spices, Good Agricultural Practices Guide, and HACCP Guide for Spices and Seasonings. “Likewise, ASTA offers several resources for non-member purchase, including an analytical methods manual and recorded webinar series,” Shumow adds.
Educational and training resources for member companies are another offering in the ASTA toolbox, Shumow adds. “Webinars and workshops are regularly offered for the industry,” she relates. “Recent topics covered by expert speakers have included whole-genome sequencing, new research on allergens, traceability/blockchain technology, and validation of spice process controls.”
Changing Concerns with Spice Safety
Issues with spices have changed over the years, says Martin Mitchell, chairman emeritus of Certified Laboratories, Inc. “Prior to the 2000s, 90 percent of spice industry concerns focused on product quality parameters, like cleanliness, color values, and volatile oil content,” he relates. “Today, as Laura Shumow points out, bacterial contamination, particularly with Salmonella, is the major concern.
Based in Melville, N.Y., Certified Laboratories is an independent laboratory specializing in microbiological and chemical analyses of numerous foods and beverages, including spices. The firm also maintains operations in Aurora, Ill., Turlock, Calif., and Buena Park, Calif. Certified participates in the ASTA Check Sample Program, Mitchell notes.
Mitchell says Certified does the majority of the independent testing of spices in the U.S. “We test for most all of the ASTA members, as well as spice companies throughout the world,” he relates.
A long-time ASTA member, Mitchell has served on the board of directors, and is a member and former chair of the Food Safety Committee. He was also a member of the ASTA Methods sub-committee that developed and approved the official ASTA testing methods for spices.
“In the early 2000s, there was some talk in the industry about Salmonella, but it was not universally accepted as a concern, especially since Salmonella does not proliferate on dry spices,” Mitchell says. “But it has evolved to a major effort to control bacterial contamination, since by the mid-2000s Salmonella and other pathogens were traced to spices. At that time most spices came into the country untreated and any bacteria present were not necessarily treated upon arrival.”
Most imported spices are now cleaned and subjected to a kill step by the U.S. processors when they take possession, Mitchell continues. “And there are now industry expectations for a validated kill step, documented sanitation controls, and pathogen testing for all spices, so they are sold to food manufacturers, food service customers, and consumers pathogen free,” he emphasizes.
Mitchell concurs with Shumow that adulteration is another major concern in the spice industry. “Some imported ground spices from Third-World countries are coming in adulterated,” he elaborates. “For example, lead and lead chromate have been found in cumin and turmeric, and Sudan dyes have been identified in red pepper. Herbs such as sumac have been added to ground oregano.”