Indian spices under regulatory scanner in US
Many spices from India, the largest exporter of these cooking ingredients to the US, have come under scanner of the health watchdog FDA for being susceptible to Salmonella bacteria contamination.
Salmonella germs are said to have been behind many food poisoning outbreaks in the US, while the food products that can get such contaminations include spices, fish, beef, poultry, milk, eggs and vegetables.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has put nearly 200 India-based firms on its 'red list' due to presence of Salmonella bacteria in the spices and other food products exported by them to the US between 2009 and 2013.
The products being brought into the US by the companies on the FDA's red-list can face "detention without physical examination".
According to the FDA red-list import alert, the contaminated spices include capsicum, cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, celery, basil and pepper.
Amid growing concerns about Salmonella, the FDA initiated a research to characterise the prevalence of Salmonella in imported spices.
The study, whose findings are yet to be made public in full, focussed on over 20,000 food shipments that arrived in the US between 2007 and 2009 and found that around 7 % of spices were contaminated with salmonella.
Spices from India were found to be the second-most contaminated after Mexico in this study, based on which the FDA is likely to soon initiate the necessary remedial and precautionary actions.
According to available results of the study, a larger proportion of shipments of spices derived from fruit/seeds or leaves of plants were contaminated than those derived from the bark/flower of spice plants.
Besides, Salmonella prevalence was larger for shipments of ground/cracked capsicum and coriander than for shipments of their whole spice counterparts.
Over one million people annually in the US are affected by salmonella, a common cause of food-borne sickness. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.
India exported nearly 7 lakh tonnes of spices and spice products valued at over Rs 11,100 crore in FY'13 against 5.75 lakh tonnes valued at over Rs 9,700 crore in FY'12, however the share of the US in total exports could not be ascertained.
The FDA has been conducting various programmes to promote safety of food products among the Indian suppliers.
Experts from the FDA's Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition partnered with the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN) and the Indian Spices Board in September, 2012 to present a week-long training program in Cochin, India.
FDA's India operations comprise of a team of 12 inspectors based in New Delhi and Mumbai. The team is soon to be expanded to 19 members.
JIFSAN is administered by FDA and the University of Maryland. More than 70 participants from India's government, industry, universities and trade groups gathered to learn about effective methods for ensuring food safety for spices and botanicals (plant parts and extracts).
Last year in March, the FDA had narrowed down on a manufacturer in India while investigating the source of a Salmonella outbreak in the US. Subsequently, the Indian government cancelled the manufacturer's license after the FDA inspection concluded that the tuna product implicated in the outbreak came from its facility.
Besides food products, many Indian drug makers have found themselves on wrong side of American rules as FDA said it found contaminants like filth, pesticides and insect parts in drugs manufactured here. The agency has taken strict action against drug manufacturers who did not adhere to rules.