Spices are the foundation of any delicious meal and have the ability to upgrade even the simplest of ingredients. A cheesy, decadent tray of enchiladas would be incomplete without a dash of cumin. All of our favorite holiday desserts feature some blend of warm, cozy spices. Whether you’re cooking sweet or savory, spices are a helpful (and often necessary) upgrade.

A well-stocked spice cabinet is essential for every home kitchen. But if you’re not careful, there’s a chance that your seasonings may include an unsavory addition: bugs.

External contaminants are a risk when it comes to any type of food, from fresh produce to animal products. Pre-packaged foods and ingredients might have a lower risk of an infestation, but the risk is not zero.

We chatted with Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, food scientist and author of 150 Food Science Questions Answered, to unpack everything you need to know about contaminated spices and how to avoid them.

Which Insects Can Be Found In Spices?

Each different spice attracts different species of insects. A wide variety of beetles, borers, grubs, thrips, and aphids can contaminate black pepper, cardamom, coriander, ginger, and turmeric.

The two most common insect contaminants, however, may be found in several different spices. The cigarette beetle and drugstore beetle, named for their proclivity for burrowing in tobacco and medication, respectively, can also be found in a wide variety of food products.

These reddish brown bugs are relatively small, averaging between 1/10 and 1/8 of an inch. They can contaminate several different grains, flours, and seeds—but they also especially love dried paprika, cayenne pepper, and ginger.

How Common Is Finding Insects In Spices?

The risk level of finding bugs in a new jar of spices is relatively low. "This type of contamination typically only happens if the spices have been left in the open for an extended period of time, usually at the point of harvest, drying, or distribution before it's imported,” Le says.

And once the ingredients are imported, they undergo extensive processing before they end up in a jar. Brands like McCormick use sanitation methods, such as steam pasteurization, to mitigate the risk of any unwanted contaminants. Le adds that most spices we find in supermarkets have undergone visual inspection to ensure that there are no insects or insect parts.

“The presence of insect parts and other contaminants are likely to signal the presence of pathogens such as Salmonella, Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens, and Clostridium botulinum,” Le says.

To avoid exposing consumers to disease-causing bacteria and risking potential lawsuits, it’s in the best interest of spice companies to uphold stringent safety measures. Encountering these insects at the supermarket is very uncommon—especially if you buy spices in sealed containers.

But, still, it’s worth taking some precautionary measures once you take the spices home. Le advises keeping your pantry clean and using airtight, hard containers to store your spices.

“These insects are naturally attracted to open, dried powders,” he says. So minimizing access to these powders will be your safest bet.

2024-06-13T20:07:14Z dg43tfdfdgfd