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Lebensm.-Wiss. u.-Technol.

, 28, I-11 (1995)

Review Article

Microbial Contamination of Spices and Herbs: A Review


L. H. McKee

Department of Home Economics, New Mexico State University, P.O. Box 30003, Dept. 3470, Las Cruces, NM 88003
(U.S.A.)
'Received August 1, 1994; accepted September 6, 1994)

The populari~ of highly spiced cuisine and consumer demand fop" more flavolful foods which are also low in sodium and fat have
resulted in a continuing interest in the use of spices and herbs in food products. Although such condiments are generally used for the
aesthetic properties the3, contribute to food products, spices and herbs can often be a major source of microbial contamination. Studies
investigating bacterial and/or fungal contamination of spices and herbs are reviewed. The high levels of microbial contamination in
spices and herbs reported by many of the studies reviewed suggests a need for better control in all aspects of the production, processing
and usage of these products to prevent potential food spoilage and food-borne illnesses due to contaminated spices and herbs.

(4) in a study based in Nigeria. A total of 230 samples of


alligator pepper, red pepper, black pepper, thyme, and curry
powder were collected from the main markets in Port
Harcourt, Nigeria and examined for bacterial loads and
Bacillus contamination. Total counts ranged from 1.8 10 4
to 1.1 l08 bacteria/g. Most of the spices tested were
reported to have high loads of Bacillus cereus. Significant
numbers of B. polymyxa, B. subtilis and B. coagulans were
also detected.
The microbial loads of 36 spices and herbs from two
sources was investigated by Baxter and Holzapfel (5) in
South Africa. Sources were identified only as A and B.
Source A spices were obtained from two wholesalers and a
local South African producer. Source B spices were purchased directly from the manufacturer. Source, manufacturing process, age, and type of condiment were found to affect
microbial contamination. Contamination varied from several hundred to several million per g with the highest levels
of contamination (>106CFU/g) found in black pepper,
coriander, pimento, paprika, mace, and white pepper from
source A and in pimento from source B. The presence of
Bacillus cereus was confirmed in cardamom, marjoram,
onion powder, paprika, white pepper, and pimento from
source A. Other microorganisms, including Escherichia coli
isolated from rosemary, Salmonella from paprika, and fecal
streptococci isolated from white and black peppers,
pimento, and paprika, were also detected. Results of the
study emphasized the need for safe methods of spice
cleaning and sterilization.
The microbial profiles of cumin seeds and chilli powder
were investigated by Bhat et al. (6) in Bombay, India. After
dividing the city of Bombay into six zones, a 3 kg sample of
cumin seeds and a 3 kg sample of chilli powder were
purchased from each of three retail shops in each of the
zones. Samples were evaluated for aerobic plate count,

Introduction
Spices and herbs have been used for a variety of functions
for centuries. In ancient times, spices were so valuable that
they were used as a form of money and, for many years,
were so expensive that they were available only to the very
rich. Not only were the spices used to season foods, but they
were often used as perfumes, cosmetics and aphrodisiacs
(1). Ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese writings indicate
that spices were often used for medicinal purposes. The use
of spices and herbs for cosmetic and medicinal purposes is
still seen today.
Spices and herbs have also been used for centuries for the
aroma and flavor characteristics they provide to foods. In
ancient times, when food preservation was inadequate,
spices were used to Cover spoilage in food products. While
this is no longer an acceptable use of spices and herbs, the
increasing popularity of highly spiced cuisines as well as a
desire for flavorful foods which are low in sodium and fat
have sparked an increase in the use of spices and herbs (2).
Unfortunately, spices and herbs often contribute more than
aesthetic properties to foods. Many spices are grown and
harvested in poor sanitary conditions in areas abundant in
warmth and humidity. Such conditions lay the groundwork
for potential microbiological contamination. Numerous
studies have indicated high microbial loads in spices and
herbs which could pose a problem for food manufacturers.

Bacterial Contamination of Spices and Herbs


Al-Jassir (3) conducted a study in Saudi Arabia to evaluate
the microflora of black cumin seeds grown in that country.
Total aerobic bacteria count was reported to be 7
107 CFU/g. Since Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus were detected in low numbers, it was thought that the
seeds presented no health hazard.
Bacillus flora in Nigerian spices was investigated by Antai

Escherichia coli, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus,


anaerobic sporeformers, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, and

enterococci. Aerobic plate counts ranging from 2

0023-6438/95/010001 + 11 $08.00/0

(~ 1995 Academic Press Limited

lwt/vol. 28 (1995) No. 1

India. Thirteen of the red pepper samples were purchased in


St. Paul, Minnesota, and were reported to be from the U.S.
The remaining six samples of red pepper were from India.
Total numbers of bacteria of 1 ! samples of black pepper
tested ranged from 8.3 x 106 to 7 x 108/g. A composite
sample prepared from six of the black pepper samples was
cultured for bacterial identification. EscheHchia coli,
Escherichia freundii, Serratia sp., Klebsiella sp., Bacillus
sp., Staphylococcus sp., and Streptococcus sp. were identified from the composite sample. Shigella and Salmonella
were not detected. Bacterial content of the red pepper
samples was not reported.
Microbiological analysis of 12 commercial samples of black
and white pepper was conducted by Dacarro et al. (11) in
Italy. Counts ranged from 6.0 x 102CFU/g to 4.7 x
106CFU/g when spices were stored at 20C, 3.5 x
103CFU/g to 1.2 x 106CFU/g at a 37C storage temperature, and 2.0 x 102CFU/g to 1.3 x 106CFU/g when
the storage temperature was 55 C. Bacteria isolated from
the samples included Enterobacter, CIostridium, Escherichia, and Klebsiella.
In a German study, Dehne and Bogl (12) investigated the
use of high frequency and microwave treatments for pasteurization of spices. Bacterial counts were reduced when
the microwave treatment was used to pasteurize oregano,
whole cloves, whole white pepper, marjoram, mace, granulated paprika, and powdered paprika. The maximum reduction occurred in cloves; microwave treatment was reported
to decrease the bacterial load in that spice from 7.0 x
106CFU/g in untreated samples to 2.0 x 103CFU/g (logt0
reduction of 3.6) in the treated spice. Reduction in bacterial
loads by the microwave treatment was related to moisture
content of the spice. The use of high frequency to pasteurize
ground cinnamon, crushed white pepper, crushed black
pepper, whole caraway, and marjoram leaves was most
effective when no humidification treatment was applied to
the spices prior to high frequency pasteurization. Maximum
bacterial reductions occurred in non-humidified ground
cinnamon with a loglo reduction of 3.5.
In an investigation conducted in Spain, Franco et al. (13)
evaluated the effectiveness of several sterilization methods
on microbial loads of three types of Spanish-produced
paprika stored at cold or room temperatures. Mesophilic
aerobes and coliforms in untreated paprika samples stored at
cold (4 C) temperatures tended to increase as storage time
increased through 105 days and then decreased at the 135and 285-day testing periods for all three types of paprika.
Mesophilic aerobe counts ranged from 4.9 x 10 6 CFU/g for
water-granulated paprika at day 15 to 2.3 x 107CFU/g for
paprika powder stored for 285 days. Coliform counts ranged
from 1.6 x 103/g for paprika powder stored for 285 days to
1.9 x 104/g for oil-granulated paprika stored 105 days.
Samples stored at room temperature (16-36.8C) had
higher microbial loads than those stored at 4 C. Mesophilic
aerobic counts for room temperature samples ranged from
1.2 x 107/g for oil-granulated paprika stored for 15 days to
2.9 x 107/g for paprika powder stored for 285 days.
Coliform counts ranged from 7.5 x 103/g for oil-granulated
paprika stored for 15 days to 2.4 x 104/g for paprika
powder stored 105 and 135 days and for oil-granulated
paprika stored for 135 and 285 days.

106CFU/g to 2 X 108CFU/g were detected for chilli


powder and l x 104CFU/g to l x 108CFU/g for cumin
seeds. Although no Salmonella, Shigella, or VibHo were
detected in any of the samples, Escherichia coli and
Bacillus cereus were detected in chilli powder. The wide
variation in microbial profile between chilli powder and
cumin seeds purchased from the same dealers was attributed
to the chemical composition of the spices, antimicrobial
factors, environmental conditions, and potential differences
in handling by personnel.
de Boer and Boot (7) compared Rapid Perfringens Medium
(RPM), Peffringens Enrichment Medium (PEM), and Tryptose Sulfite Cycloserine (TSC) agar medium for determination of Clostridium pelfringens in spices and herbs in a
study conducted in The Netherlands. Forty-three of 54
different kinds of spices and herbs and 86 of 147 total spice
and herb samples purchased from three retail suppliers were
found to contain C. pe~fringens by one or more of the
methods employed. Although the majority of spices and
herbs positive for C. pelfringens contained between 10 and
500 cells/g, samples of mixed spices, ginger, and savory
were reported to contain more than 1000 cells/g. The
authors concluded that the RPM was a suitable medium for
screening and was superior to the PEM and TSC agars for
isolation of C. perfringens from spices and herbs.
The microbiology of 150 samples of 54 different spices,
spice mixtures, and herbs from three retail suppliers was
studied by de Boer et al. (8) in The Netherlands. Curry,
paprika, white and black peppers, ginger, basil, mixed
spices, and curcuma were reported to have total aerobic
counts of>107 CFU/g when incubated at 30 C while thyme,
dill, coriander, basil, and chervil had total aerobic counts of
>106CFU/g when incubated at 70C. Total spore counts
were >107CFU/g in paprika, white and black peppers,
ginger, curcuma, and caraway. Enterobacteriaceae were
detected in oregano, tarragon, parsley, basil, and chervil at
>I05CFU/g. Bacillus cereus at >I04CFU/g was found in
white pepper, ginger, and mixed spices, while CIostridium
pe156ingens was found in ginger, savory and mixed spices at
> 103 CFU/g.
Castell (9) investigated the thermophilic microorganism
loads of various foods and food ingredients, including
spices, in a study conducted in Canada. Spice samples were
purchased directly from the manufacturer. Thermophilic
aerobe counts ranged from 7.8 x 105/g for ground white
pepper to 7/g for coumarin. No thermophilic aerobes were
detected in vanillin powder. Ground white pepper, ground
Portugese paprika, and ground Batavia cassia were each
found to have 1 X 106 sporeforming anaerobes/g. Sporeforming anaerobe counts for other spices ranged from 1 x
105/g for ground cloves to 0 sporeforming anaerobes/g for
coumarin and vanillin powder.
The microflora of black and red pepper was studied by
Christensen et al. (10) in the United States. Black pepper
samples (55 total) were obtained as follows: 30 purchased in
stores in and around St. Paul, Minnesota, four brought from
homes, three obtained from passenger airplanes, one
obtained from a U.S. Navy supply ship and 17 obtained
from restaurants and clubs in Minnesota, Massachusetts,
New York, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. in the U.S.A.
and London, England, Warsaw, Poland, and New Delhi,

Iwt/vol. 28 (1995) No. 1

Geeta and Kulkarni (14) investigated the microbiological


quality of whole black pepper and ground turmeric powder
sold in retail shops in Bombay. Three 2 kg samples of each
spice were obtained from three shops in each of five zones
(East, West, South, North, and Central) in Bombay. Total
aerobic counts ranged from 1.2 X 107CFU/g to 8.2
l08 CFU/g for whole black pepper samples and from 4.1
107CFU/g to 7.4 x 108CFU/g for turmeric powder. Coliform counts ranged from 4.1 103/g to 2.2 X 104/g for
whole black pepper and 9.5 x 102/g to l.l X 104/g for
turmeric powder. All samples were reported to have counts
of <10/g for Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Shigella, and
Clostridia species.
A study by Hall (15) in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., found wide
variation in microbial loads on untreated spices. Source of
the spices was not identified. Typical mesophilic bacterial
counts for commercial spices were reported to range from
1.0 x 104/g for ground Banda mace to 6.4 x 106/g for
ground Jamaican ginger. Mesophilic spore counts were
reported to range from 0 for cinnamon to 7.6 x 104/g for
paprika while thermophilic spore counts ranged from 0 for
cinnamon to 2.4 x 104/g for red pepper.
Microbial profiles of imported and domestic spices were
determined by Julseth and Deibel (16) in a study done in the
U.S. Imported spices were sampled at the port of entry into
the U.S. by professional samplers. Samples originated as
follows: black pepper--six samples from Indonesia, three
from Brazil, and three from India; cassia--nine samples
from Indonesia, two from the Seychelles, and one from
Madagascar; celery seed--nine samples from India and one
from France; ginger--four samples from Nigeria, one from
Sierra Leone, and one from Jamaica; mace--not identified;
mustard seed--three samples from Canada and six from
U.S. sources; nutmeg--four samples from Indonesia, three
from the East Indies, two from the West Indies, and one
from East India; oregano--10 samples from Greece and
three from Mexico; paprika--16 samples from the U.S. and
10 samples imported with at least three of those from Spain;
and rosemary--10 samples unidentified as to source. Mean
standard plate counts ranged from 3.2 X 107CFU/g for
black pepper to 7.5 x 103 CFU/g for nutmeg. Standard plate
counts within a spice were reported to vary widely. For
example, standard plate counts for imported paprika reportedly ranged from 5.5/g to 30 million/g. Similarly wide
variations within a spice category were also reported for
bacterial spore counts, thermophilic anaerobe counts, proteolytic organisms, and amylolytic organisms. No Salmonella was detected in any of the original spice samples. A low
level of Staphylococcus aureus was detected in only one
black pepper sample while Escherichia coli was not detected in any of the samples.
In a Japanese study, Juri et al. (17) determined the distribution of microorganisms in ground and whole black peppers,
ground and whole white peppers, ground and whole turmeric, ground and whole rosemary, and ground basil.
Nineteen total samples of the nine spices were reportedly
obtained from local Japanese companies and had been
imported from several unidentified countries. Mean total
bacteria counts ranged from 4.6 X 107CFU/g for ground
black pepper to 4.6 x 104 CFU/g for ground white pepper.
Coliform counts ranged from 7.5 x 101/g for one of the

ground turmeric samples to 2.0 106/g for one whole white


pepper sample.
Microflora of fresh-unwashed, fresh-washed, blanched, frozen, dried, and aseptically harvested fresh parsley was
evaluated by Kaferstein (18) in a study done in Germany.
Samples of fresh, unpacked parsley were purchased from
several grocery stores, frozen parsley samples were
obtained from two food manufacturers, and dried samples
were obtained from four food manufacturers. Aseptic samples were harvested by the researchers from two market
gardeners in different areas of Berlin, Germany. Geometric
means for mesophilic aerobic counts ranged from 5.1 10 3
colonies in fresh blanched parsley to 3.7 x l07 colonies in
fresh, unwashed parsley. Geometric means for Enterobacteriacea ranged from 4 l02 colonies in fresh blanched
parsley to 4.7 x 10 6 colonies in fresh, unwashed parsley.
Salmonella and coagulase-positive staphylococci were not
detected in any of the samples. Escherichia coli, however,
was present in all samples of fresh, unwashed parsley.
Washing in cold water did not reduce the E. coli load, but
blanching markedly reduced the microbial load.
Microbiological quality of ground cinnamon, with emphasis
on occurrence of Bacillus cereus, was studied by Karapinar
and Aktug (19) in Turkey. Twenty retail samples of four
brands of cinnamon purchased locally in Turkey were
evaluated. Aerobic plate counts ranged from 5.2 X 103 tO
1.2 X 105 CFU/g and aerobic sporeformers ranged from 1.0
l03 to 1.5 105/g. Only five of the samples were
reported to have coliform counts >10/g while only two of
the samples had anaerobic spore counts >50/g. Considerable
variation in occurrence of Bacillus cereus was reported both
between brands and within samples from the same brand.
Counts for the organism ranged from 4.0 X 101 to 3.6 X
103/g before pasteurization and 4.0 x 101 to 1.4 x 103/g
after pasteurization.
In another Turkish study, Karapinar and Gonul (20) evaluated the effectiveness of various mixtures of vinegar and
acetic acid in removing Yersinia enterocolitica from fresh
parsley. A 2% (v/v) acetic acid or a 40% (v/v) vinegar dip
used for 15 min was found to have a significant bacteriacidal
effect in fresh parsley contaminated with 107 Yersinia
enterocolitica/g. No viable aerobic bacteria were recovered
from parsley exposed for 30 min to a dip of 5% (v/v) acetic
acid.
Kim and Goepfert (21) used mannitol-egg yolk-polymixin
agar and a variety of biochemical tests to determine the
occurrence of Bacillus cereus in 25 unidentified spice
samples. Samples used in the study, which was conducted in
the U.S.A., were purchased from retail outlets in Madison,
Wisconsin. Ten of the 25 spices were positive for Bacillus
cereus. Counts for those samples ranged from 100 to 1000
organisms/g.
Mean bacterial counts for spices used in preparation of
Eastem-type turkey rolls were determined by Kinner et al.
(22). Samples of white pepper, onion powder, and celery
powder were obtained from three different turkey processing plants. White pepper was found to have an average of
2.6 x 105 aerobes and 7.2 10 coliforms/g. No enterococci were detected in the white pepper. Total aerobes
in the onion powder were an average of 2.9 x 105/g while
coliforms averaged 9/g. Enterococci in the onion powder

Iwt/vol. 28 (1995) No. I

averaged 1.1 102. Celery powder was reported to have an


average of 8.7 x l05 aerobes and 4.2 10 4 coliforms/g.
Enterococci in the celery powder averaged 8.4 x 10/g.
Konuma et al. (23) used surface plating techniques to assess
the occurrence of Bacillus cereus in 300 unidentified spice
samples used in meat products in a study done in Japan.
Spice samples were collected from four meat processing
plants, four slaughterhouses, and 12 retail meat shops
located in six prefectures in Japan from November, 1983 to
April, 1985. The organism was detected in 119 (39.7%) of
the samples. The majority of samples had B. cereus counts
in the 102 to l04 viable cells/g range.
Enumeration of microorganisms in nine spices and four
spice mixtures was conducted by Krishnaswamy et al. (24)
in India. Samples were collected from manufacturers and
exporters of the spices in Madras, Mangalore, and Cochin,
India. Total microbial loads ranged from 2.0 x 104CFU/g
for refined salt to 5.5 x 107 CFU/g for turmeric. Coriander
had the greatest coliform loads at 2.4 x l03 CFU/g while
fenugreek had the lowest at 1.3 I02CFU/g. Coliforms
were also detected in black pepper, mustard, cumin, fennel,
and curry powder. Mesophilic putrefactive organisms, thermophilic flatsours, non-coagulase Staphylococcus, and
CIostridium pelfringens were also detected at varying levels
in one or more of the spices/spice mixture. Salmonella was
reported to be absent from all samples tested.
Lerke and Farber (25) used tryptone-glucose-extract agar to
enumerate microbial loads of various spices prior to treatment with ionizing radiation. Spices were reported to be
commercial samples packed in glass jars obtained from one
unidentified source. Black pepper was found to have the
greatest contamination, with an average microbial load of
29,000 x l0 -3 microorganisms/g. Allspice and paprika
also had microbial loads greater than 100 x l0 -3 microorganisms/g. Cinnamon, ginger, and cloves all had microbial loads less than 2 l0 -3 microorganisms/g.
In a Finnish study, Malmsten et al. (26) studied the effects
of packaging and storage on the microbiological quality of
dried dill, basil, marjoram, and wild marjoram grown in
Helsinki, Finland. Total aerobic plate counts ranged from
6.4 x l03 to 2.9 l07 organisms/g, with aerobic plate
counts for marjoram being significantly (P < 0.01) higher
than for the other dried herbs. Incidence of coliforms, fecal
coliforms, fecal streptococci, and anaerobic sporeformers
was reported to be low in all samples evaluated. However,
aerobic sporeformers and Bacillus cereus were detected in
most samples. Air-dried dill and basil were reported to
contain a microbial load ten times greater than freeze-dried
samples. Herbs stored in vacuum packages had greater
microbial loads than those stored in packages containing
oxygen. Although storage time seemed to have little effect
on microbial loads, microbial counts were generally higher
in samples stored at 23 C than at 35 C.
Microbial loads of black pepper, chilli powder, turmeric,
coriander, and curry powder were investigated in an Indian
study by Munasiri et al. (27). Prepacked, ground samples
were obtained from an Indian market. The heaviest bacterial
load was found in chilli powder (4.4 x 10r/g), followed by
black pepper (3.2 106/g), curry powder (l.0 x 106/g),
turmeric (9.9 10S/g), and coriander (1.5 10S/g).
Bacillus was the predominant genus of microflora, with

Bacillus megaterium identified as the most common species. Lactobacillus was detected in all spices, while Streptococcus sp. was detected only in coriander.

Microbial content of eight Nigerian spices was determined


by Ofuya and Uduma (28). Total microbial counts ranged
from 1.5 x 102 to 9.0 107 cells/g. Salmonella sp. and
Citrobacter were frequently detected in the spices, but
Bacillus cereus was found in only 15% of the samples
tested. The authors suggest that adequate sanitary measures
should be taken to reduce/eliminate microbial loads of the
Nigerian spices.
Pafumi, in an Australian study, (29) evaluated 32 spice
samples for standard plate counts, Escherichia coli, coliforms, Bacillus cereus, presumptive Clostridium petfringens, and the presence of Salmonella. Spices and herbs
imported from unidentified countries were sampled prior to
shipment as well as on arrival in Australia. Standard plate
counts ranged from 1.0 X 102CFU/g for cloves and
cayenne pepper to 2.0 x 108 CFU/g for black peppercorns.
E. coli was detected at low levels (<3/g) in garlic powder,
Chinese capsicums, broken mace, fenugreek seed, onion
powder, mint flakes, mixed herbs, ground cinnamon, ground
paprika, ground ginger, and turmeric and at levels of >1.1 x
103/g in some black and white peppercorn samples. Coliforms were detected in all samples except minced and
saroline garlic, cayenne pepper, cloves, and chives, with
peppercorns once again containing the highest levels. Low
levels (<3/g) of Bacillus cereus were detected in all samples
except cloves, cayenne pepper, and chives, although broken
mace and ginger yielded counts of about 5 x 103 CFU/g. C.
pelfringens levels up to 1 x 103CFU/g were detected in
black and white peppercorns, broken mace, oregano, mint
flakes, mixed herbs, ground cinnamon, cinnamon chips,
turmeric, ground ginger, and dried/sliced ginger. Salmonella was isolated from both black and white peppercorns as
well as from fenugreek seed.
The source of spoilage in Lebanon bolognas and other
fermented sausages was determined by Palumbo et al. (30)
to be the added spices. Spice source was not identified for
the study conducted in the U.S.A. Microbial loads in spices
ranged from 107 for black pepper, ginger, and Lebanon
bologna spice mixture to <103 for mustard. The predominant flora detected in the spices was Bacillus subtilis.
Pospisil and Ljesevic (31) examined the bacteriological
quality of 11 spices commonly used in meat products in a
study done in Yugoslavia. Total bacteriological counts were
highest in ginger, black pepper, and 'hot' paprika and
lowest in cinnamon and nutmeg. Escherichia coli, Proteus
spp., and coagulase-positive staphylococci were not detected in any of the spices. Anaerobic bacterial spores were
detected in a number of spices, including coriander, white
pepper, black pepper, ginger, 'hot' paprika, sweet paprika,
and powdered garlic.
The microbiological quality of 110 total samples of bay
leaves (11 samples), cayenne pepper (18 samples), chilli
powder (16 samples), cinnamon (16 samples), garlic powder (17 samples), mustard powder (14 samples), and oregano (18 samples) purchased by the United States military
was evaluated by Powers et al. (32) in a study done in the
U.S. Samples representing I 0 processors were purchased by
16 military bases from local supermarkets. Total aerobic

Iwl/vol. 28 (1995) No. I

plate counts varied widely, ranging from <100 (bay leaves)


to 9.1 106/g. Coliforms were detected in some samples of
cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and garlic powder, but fecal
coliforms were not detected in any sample. Only oregano
was found to contain reportable levels of coagulase-positive
staphylococci. Clostridium peffringens was found in four
(bay leaves, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and oregano) of the
seven spices tested, but in only two of the brands. The
presence of Closo'idium peffringens was considered to be a
health hazard which emphasized the need for rigorous
cleanliness standards for spices.
In a second study done by Powers et al. (33), incidence and
levels of Bacillus cereus in the 110 spice samples used by
Powers et al. (32) were determined. Fifty-three percent of
the samples contained B. cereus, with counts ranging from
50 to 8500/g. Eighty-nine percent of isolates tested were
found to be toxigenic. Toxigenic isolates were detected in at
least one sample of every type of spice tested.
Aerobic mesophilic and thermophilic microorganisms in
spices were evaluated by Proctor et al. (34) prior to
treatment of the spices with supervoltage cathode rays.
Spices for the study were purchased in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Total aerobic mesophilic counts ranged from
2.5 103 (nutmeg) to 9.0 106 (red pepper) bacteria/g.
Total aerobic thermophilic counts ranged from 4.0 102
(nutmeg) to 9.0 105 (ginger) bacteria/g. Although numbers were considerably reduced, irradiation did not completely eliminate mesophilic microorganisms in paprika,
ginger, turmeric, black pepper, or red pepper, nor thermophilic bacteria in black pepper.
Robinson et al. (35) conducted a study in the U.S.A. to
evaluate the effects of X-ray sterilization on microbial loads
of spices. The source of the spices was not identified.
Aerobic and anaerobic bacterial and spore counts were
made on samples of sage, ground black pepper, and whole
black pepper after incubation of plates at either 30C or
55C. Both aerobic and anaerobic counts tended to be
higher when plates were incubated at 30 C. Ground black
pepper contained the highest levels (106 ) of total aerobic
and total anaerobic bacteria, as well as the highest levels of
aerobic and anaerobic spores. Treatment with an X-ray
dosage of 1,000,000 Roentgen units sterilized sage and
ground black pepper, but did not completely eliminate
micro-organisms from whole black pepper.
Eighty-three samples of processed, commercial Spanish
black and white pepper were analysed for Closo'idium
peffringens, Bacillus cereus, pathogenic staphylococcus,
and Salmonella by Salmeron et al. (36) in a study done in
Spain. Salmonella was not detected in any of the white
pepper samples tested. Black pepper was more heavily
contaminated than white pepper, containing Salmonella and
four to six times as much pathogenic staphylococcus than
white pepper samples. Grinding was reported to slightly
increase bacterial loads.
Satchell et al. (37) conducted a microbiological survey in
the U.S.A. on imported black and white peppercorns,
coriander seeds, and fennel seeds. Total aerobic counts were
in the 104-107CFU/g range for black and white peppercorns and in the 103-105CFUlg range for coriander and
fennel seeds. Escherichia coli was detected in four samples
of black peppercorns, one sample of white peppercorns and

one sample of coriander. Two of the black peppercorn


samples tested positive for Salmonella. Enterobacter cloacae and Klebsiella pneumoniae were the most frequently
found spp. of Enterobacteriaceae in all spices evaluated.
Schwab et al. (38) conducted a national survey on the
microbiological quality of l0 spices and herbs obtained
from retail outlets throughout the U.S. in a study done in
that country. Most samples had total aerobic plate counts of
<100. However, six samples of ginger and four samples of
pepper had counts in the 1.1 108-5 108APC/g range.
Although mean coliform counts were <20/g for all samples,
two samples of pepper and one sample of thyme had
coliform counts at a level of >106/g. Less than three
Escherichia coli/g were detected in most samples, but two
samples of thyme were reported to contain E. coli in the
range of 1200-9500/g. The authors concluded that the large
differences in microbiological quality both between and
within spices tested suggested a need for specific cleanliness
criteria for individual spices rather than a single criterion for
all spices.
Seenappa and Kempton (39) evaluated the occurrence of
Bacillus spp. in dry, unprocessed Indian spices in a study
conducted in Canada. Twenty-five samples each of black
pepper, red pepper, ginger, and turmeric were collected
from Indian warehouses in Kerala and Kamataka, India just
prior to export and shipped to Canada for evaluation of total
bacterial loads. Identification of microorganisms present
was also conducted. Total bacterial loads ranged from 2.5
I0 3 bacteria/g in turmeric to 8.0 l07 bacteria/g in ginger.
The predominant microflora was found to be Bacillus spp.,
particularly B. cereus, B. subtilis, B. polymyxa, and B.
coagulans. The authors concluded that since Indian spices
are commonly marketed without sterilization, the presence
of high microbial loads would indicate unsatisfactory handling during drying and storage.
Bacterial counts of commercially available samples of
pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves purchased from local Indian markets were determined by
Sharma et al. (40) in a study done in India. Total bacterial
counts ranged from 8.7 102CFU/g for cloves to 1.4
107 CFU/g for pepper. An irradiation dose of 7.5 kGy was
sufficient to sterilize nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, but
failed to eliminate completely bacterial contamination from
pepper and cardamom.
Six laboratories assessed the microbiological quality of
irradiated and unirradiated samples of whole and ground
black pepper, red chilli, and turmeric collected from a
Bombay, India market in a study conducted by Sharma et al.
(41). Average standard plate counts were 3.4 107 CFU/g
for whole black pepper, 7.8 104CFU/g for whole red
chilli, and 1.3 106CFU/g for whole turmeric. Average
standard plate counts were 5.6 107CFU/g for ground
black pepper, 1.1 106CFU/g for ground red chilli, and
1.1 106CFU/g for ground turmeric. Three of the laboratories reported standard plate counts of 0 in irradiated
spices, while the remaining three laboratories reported
standard plate counts of <160/g in one or more of the spice
samples. All of the laboratories reported no evidence of
Bacillus cereus or Escherichia coli in irradiated samples.
One laboratory, however, found E. coli in the range of 103
to 105/g in both whole and ground red chilli and turmeric

lwffvol. 28 (1995) No. 1

and B. cereus in the range of 102 to 103/g in both whole and


ground pepper and red chilli. Based on the results of the
study, the authors recommended an acceptable standard
plate count range of 0-100CFU/g and 0 E. coli and B.
cereus for irradiated spices.
Microbial contamination of black and white pepper samples
prior to irradiation was evaluated by Shigemura et al. (42)
in the U.S.A. Samples prepackaged in commercial containers were used in the study. Untreated black pepper was
reported to have a standard plate count of 8.3 106/g and a
yeast and mold count of 4.7 103/g. Untreated white
pepper reportedly had a standard plate count of 6,9 106/g
and a yeast and mold count of 9.5 104/g. None of the
pepper samples was found to contain growth of either
pathogenic or non-pathogenic microorganisms after being
treated with an irradiation dose of 10 kGy.
Reduction of microbial loads in turmeric, black pepper, and
chilli by gamma irradiation was studied by Singh et al. (43)
in India. Total plate counts of untreated spices ranged from
10 4 to 106/g while coliform counts were 102 to 105/g. Spore
counts ranged from 102 to 105/g. An irradiation dose of 4 to
5 kGy was reported to be sufficient to reduce microbial
loads to acceptable levels.
The presence of CIostridium pelfringens in 20 unidentified
types of spices was determined by Strong et al. (44) in a
U.S. study in which commercially ground, packaged spices
were used. The source of the spices was not identified. Only
paprika, savory, and poultry seasoning were positive
for the organism, with counts ranging from 10 to 30 cells/g.
Roman camomile, lemon balm, and peppermint collected
from four locations in the Maine and Loire region of France
during 1988 were evaluated for microbial loads by Tharreau
et al. (45). Bacterial loads ranged from 105 to 107 cells/g
fresh weight. Potentially pathogenic bacteria detected
included Pseudomonas syringai, Erwinia rhapontici, and
Acinetobacter calcoaceticus. High levels of an unidentified
Gram-positive bacteria were also isolated from the spices.
The effect of ionizing radiation on microbial loads of spices
was studied by Tjaberg et al. (46) in Norway. Spice samples
were imported from unidentified countries. Total aerobic
plate counts for unirradiated spices were 4.8 107/g for
ginger, 6.1 105/g for white pepper, and 3.9 104/g for
nutmeg. Ginger was also reported to contain the greatest
number of aerobic sporeformers which hydrolysed starch,
aerobic sporeformers, and anaerobic sporeformers. Coliforms were not detected in either nutmeg or ginger, but 3.1
103 coliforms/g were reported for white pepper. An
irradiation dose of 1.58 Mrad was sufficient to completely
sterilize all spices tested.
Total aerobic plate counts, thermophilic microorganisms,
and aerobic spore counts were determined by Vajdi and
Pereira (47) in their study done in Canada on the effects of
various sterilization methods on microbial loads in spices.
Spice source was not identified. Total aerobic plate counts
of unirradiated spices ranged from 3.3 104/g for oregano
to 9.9 106/g for paprika. Black pepper contained the
highest level of thermophilic microorganisms (1.6 106/g)
as well as the greatest quantity of aerobic spores (6.3
104/g). Microwave treatment was insufficient to reduce
microbial loads in any of the spices, while treatment with
ethylene oxide was sufficient to sterilize completely only

paprika and oregano. Gamma irradiation effectively sterilized all spice samples tested.
Warmbrod and Fry (48) evaluated the coliform and total
bacterial loads in spices, seasonings, and condiments as part
of a regulatory program conducted by the Food and Drug
Division of the state of Tennessee (U.S.) to determine if
those ingredients might be responsible for high bacterial
contents of sausages and other prepared meats. Spice
samples were collected from meat packing plants in Tennessee and then grouped as peppers (group I), prepared
sausage seasonings (group IlL frankfurter, bologna and
prepared meat seasonings (group III), and sage (Group IV).
Peppers were found to have the highest aerobic plate counts,
ranging from 3.0 103 to 2.8 107/g. Although sage had
the lowest overall aerobic plate count (<3.0 103 to 2.4
104/g), it also was reported to have the highest average
coliform count of any group (1.5 104/g). The authors
recommended a further study to compare microbial contamination of spices, seasonings, and condiments packed in
bulk with those packed in single, batch-size containers.
Yesair and Williams (49) reported on an investigation
conducted by the National Canners Association as part of a
study done in the U.S. on contamination of ingredients used
in canning. Forty types of spices and herbs were collected
from one spice manufacturer, four canners, and three meat
packers in the U.S. As with many studies, black pepper was
found to be the most heavily contaminated, with total counts
ranging from 1.2 106 to 1.6 x 107CFU/g. Black pepper
also contained the greatest quantities of acid-tolerant bacteria, total sporeformers, gas-forming spores, and aerobic
sporeformers. Overall, cloves (both whole and ground) were
found to be the least contaminated of the spices tested. The
authors concluded that there was a need for treatment to
reduce the bacterial content of spices.

Fungal Contamination of Spices

Abdel-Hafez et al. (40) determined the thermophilic and


thermotolerant fungi in caraway, cumin, fennel, anise, and
coriander seeds from the 1986 Egyptian crops of the spices.
Mean total fungal counts from 40 samples of each spice
were 5020 (caraway), 7370 (cumin), 7320 (fennel), 8700
(anise), and 5340 (coriander seeds) per g of dry seeds. The
main fungal contaminant was reported to be Aspergillus
fumigatus, which was present in all but one anise and one
coriander seed sample. Emericella nidulans and Rhizomucol" pusillus were also identified from the samples. Fully
thermophilic fungi isolated from the seeds included Malbranchea pulchella, Humicola grisea subsp, thermoidea,
Myceliophtora thermophila, and Talaromyces dupontii.
Aziz and Youssef (51) examined 130 species used in meat
products for aflatoxins and aflatoxigenic molds in a study
conducted in Egypt. Spice samples used in the investigation
were collected from local meat processing companies in
Cairo, Egypt. Aflatoxin B l was detected in four samples of
black pepper (351,zg/kg) and four of white pepper
(22~g/kg). Aflatoxins B I and Gi were detected in two
samples of turmeric (12 Ixg/kg B 1 and 8 Ixg/kg G 1) and one
sample of coriander (8 Ixg/kg B 1 and 2 Ixg/kg G1). The most
commonly isolated molds were Aspergillus flavus (24 iso-

lwt/vol. 28 (1995) No. 1

lates) and Aspergi/lus parasiticus (16 isolates). Aflatoxin


contamination of processed meats was found to be correlated with the addition of spices to the fresh meat ingredient.
Quantitative fluorodensitometric analysis was used by Beljaars eta/. (52) in The Netherlands to evaluate the presence
of aflatoxins in nutmeg. A survey of aflatoxins in 40
commercial nutmeg samples chosen over 4mo in The
Netherlands was conducted using a technique involving
chloroform extraction followed by thin layer chromatography. Presence of aflatoxins was then determined by
fluorescence. Thirty of 32 samples of ground nutmeg were
found to contain aflatoxins at levels ranging from 1.0 to
23.2 I~g Bl/kg and 2.7 to 36.5 Ixg B l + B2 + Gj + G2/kg.
No aflatoxins were detected in the eight samples of whole
nutmeg tested. The same procedure was also used to
determine aflatoxin levels in 50 commercial spice samples
consisting of 19 types of spices other than nutmeg. With the
exception of one sample of bay leaf which was reported to
contain 5.1 Ixg B1/kg, no aflatoxins were detected in those
samples.
Beuchat et al. (53) compared conventional methods of mold
and yeast enumeration to the PetrifilmTM film method.
Thirty lots of black pepper purchased from supermarkets in
Atlanta, Georgia, were analysed in duplicate for yeast,
mold, and yeast + mold. Yeast (2.571ogloCFU/g), mold
(3.751og10CFU/g), and yeast + mold (3.781ogloCFU/g)
counts in the pepper were greatest using chloramphenicolsupplemented plate count agar incubated at 25 C for 5 d.
PetrifilmTM plates were found to detect significantly lower
fungal populations in black pepper when compared to either
acidified potato dextrose agar or chloramphenicol-supplemented plate count agar.
de Boer et al. (8) evaluated 150 spice and herb samples in
The Netherlands for yeasts and molds. The 54 types of
spices and herbs were purchased from three retail suppliers.
Yeast counts were predominantly in the <102 organisms/g
range. Twenty-seven of the 150 samples had mold counts in
the 10 4 to l 0 5 organisms/g range, while 24 samples had
counts in the range of 103 to 104 organisms/g and 23
samples fell in the 102 to 103 range. Twenty-nine mold
cultures were isolated and identified. Isolated species
included Aspergillus niger, Aspergil/us flavus, and Penici//ium citrinum. No aflatoxins were detected in 20 of the
spice samples which contained A. flavus.
Microflora of black and red pepper was assessed by Christensen et al. (10) in a study done in the U.S.A. Fungi in 30
samples of ground black pepper ranged from 1.7 103 to
3.1 x 105/g. Storage fungi, which included Aspergi/lus
g/aucus, Aspergillus candidus, Aspergillus flavus, and
Aspergi/lus ochraceus, averaged 1.6 103/g in 13 samples
of red pepper from the United States and 7.9 104/g in six
samples from India. Other fungi, including Aspergi//us
niger, Penicil/ium spp., and Rhizopus spp., averaged 1.6 x
103/g in the U.S. red pepper and 1.7 x 105/g in the Indian
red pepper. Aflatoxin B 1 was isolated from one sample of
corn on which A. flavus from the black pepper was grown.
Twenty ground spices and three spice mixtures commonly
available in the United Kingdom were evaluated for the
presence of aflatoxin-producing strains of Aspergillusflavus
by Flannigan and Hui (54) in a study done in Edinburgh,

Scotland. Cloves was the only spice found to be free of


mold contamination. Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus
glaucus (group) were the most common mold spp. detected
in the spices tested. Seven of the 24 strains of A. flavus
isolated from 14 different spices produced aflatoxins in
vitro. Tests also indicated that whole ginger, Jamaica
pepper, red pepper, and white pepper would support the
growth and production of aflatoxin by A. flavus.
Fungal contamination of 144 total samples of 33 types of
spices and herbs commercially available in Spain was
determined by Garrido eta/. (55) in an investigation done in
that country. Samples containing <103 spores/g included
whole and ground cloves, whole nutmeg, ground aniseed,
ground cumin, and ground tarragon. The remaining samples
were reported to contain high (103-104 spores/g) to very
high (<104 spores/g) mold contamination. Penicillium spp.
were isolated from 47 of the 144 samples while Aspergil/us
spp. were isolated from 68 of the samples. Aspergi/lus spp.
isolated included A. flavus, A. niger, A. glaucus, and A.

nidulans.
A second study conducted in Spain by Garrido et a/. (56)
investigated the mold contamination and presence of ariatoxin-producing strains of Aspergil/us flavus in spices and
herbs purchased from supermarkets in Spain. Mold counts
were classified as very little (102 propagules/g) in ground
clove, ground cumin seed, ground tarragon, and nutmeg to
extremely high (105 propagules/g) in stick and ground
cinnamons, capers, saffron, badian, cardamom, juniper,
fennel, artemisia, bay leaf, mint, parsley, rock tea, and
ground mustard. Aspergillus spp. predominated in most
spices, although Penicil/ium spp. were the most common
mold genera in stick and ground cinnamons, turmeric, and
ground nutmeg. Four of the 13 strains of A. flavus examined
were found to fluoresce when grown on aflatoxin production
media.
Hashmi and Ghaffar (57), working in Karachi, Pakistan,
isolated 14 genera and 24 spp. of fungi from 88 samples of
coriander seeds from 15 countries. Samples from Pakistan
and India contained predominantly Alternaria alternata and
Fusarium moni/iforme. Other isolated fungi included Alternaria Iongissima, Boo3~tis cinerea, Fusarium equiseti, Protomyces macrosporus, and Pythium spinosum. Unlike other
studies, Aspergil/us and Penici//ium spp. were rarely detected except in heavily contaminated samples.
In another study done in Pakistan, Hashmi and Thrane (58)
studied the mycotoxins produced by species of Fusarium
isolated from capsicum, coriander, and fenugreek seeds.
Fusarium was isolated from 222 samples of capsicum, 88
samples of coriander, and 23 samples of fenugreek using
standard blotter techniques. A total of 1004 isolates representing six spp.--F, moniliforme, F. subglutinans, F. semitectum, F. solani, F. equiseti, and F. oxysporum--were
detected. A variety of mycotoxins were produced by the
isolated species.
Aspergil/us spp. were the most common molds detected in
10 samples of spices obtained from Japanese companies by
Juri et al. (17) in a study done in Japan. Unirradiated spices
had mold counts ranging from 1 x 102 to 2 x 104/g. Two
strains identified as A. flavus var. columnaris produced
aflatoxins. Ground black pepper stored in polyethylene
pouches at 35 C and 95% relative humidity supported rapid

Iwl/vol. 28 (1995) No. I

using the ELISA technique. Four of the 11 spice samples


(unidentified as to type) tested had an antigen content of
>32,000 reciprocal of ELISA titer/g of product. Four samples of ground nutmeg were reported to contain aflatoxin B I
contents ranging from 7 ng/g to 114 ng/g and antigen contents ranging from 30,000 to >32,000 reciprocal of ELISA
titer/g of product.
The ELISA technique used by Notermans et al. (63) was
compared to the mold colony count method for enumeration
of molds by Notermans et al. (64) in a second study done in
The Netherlands. Samples of nutmeg, black pepper, white
pepper, cinnamon, paprika powder, cayenne powder, chilli
powder, cloves, and curry were randomly collected from
commercial stores over a 1-mo period. Surface plating on
dichloran-glycerol medium (DG- 18), dichloran-rose bengal
medium (DRBC), and malt extract medium (MEOA) resulted in mold counts ranging from <5.0 102 to 7.0
104CFU/g. The medium resulting in the highest mold
counts varied from spice to spice. For example, highest
mold counts for nutmeg were found using DG-18, while the
highest mold counts for curry were found using MEOA.
Although mold counts did not correlate to the ELISA titer,
high mold counts were never observed in combination with
low ELISA titer. Since the mold antigen detected by the
ELISA technique was stable to many processing conditions,
the authors concluded that it gave a better 'mold history' of
a product than viable mold counts, which may be affected
by heating, additives, and other processing techniques.
Pal and Kundu (65) investigated the occurrence of fungi in
Indian spices purchased from grocers' shops and their
ability to produce aflatoxins in a study done in India. A
variety of Aspergillus and Penicillium spp. were isolated
from the spices, including A. flavus, A. conjunctus, A. niger,
and P. frequentans. Black and red peppers were reported to
be two of the best spices for support of aflatoxin-producing
fungi.
In a study done in Germany, Rosenberger and Weber (66)
tested 118 spice and spice preparation samples obtained
from seven manufacturers for the presence of Salmonella,
Staphylococcus attreus, Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli,
and suifite reducing clostridia. One green pepper sample
was found to have a mold count of 2.1 105 mold/g as
compared with a guide value of 1 105 mold/g. All other
samples were reported to be within guide and warning
values.
A two-dimensional thin layer chromatography technique
was used by Scott and Kennedy (67) to analyse ground
black, red, and white pepper samples for aflatoxins in a
study conducted in Canada. Samples were purchased from
retail outlets in Ottawa, Canada and five other unidentified
Canadian cities. Chilli powders reportedly originated in
India and Singapore. One black pepper sample was manufactured in India. Two to three U.S. brands of each type of
ground pepper were also purchased for the study. Recovery
from pepper samples spiked with 10 to 40 Ixg/kg aflatoxins
ranged from 60 to 100% using the technique. Although
none of the black or white pepper samples analysed contained aflatoxins, 10 of 17 brands of ground cayenne pepper,
6 of 6 brands of Indian chilli powder, and 1 of 1 sample of
crushed, dried chillies were found to contain aflatoxins.
Concentration of the aflatoxins, however, was low, with a

mold growth during the first month of storage. An irradiation dose of 0.2 Mrad delayed mold growth in the ground
pepper, but was insufficient to suppress mold growth in
whole peppercorns. Unirradiated ground turmeric, ground
rosemary, whole rosemary, ground white pepper, and whole
white pepper also supported mold growth during storage,
with counts reaching a maximum of 106/g. An irradiation
dose of 0.4 Mrad was sufficient to eliminate mold growth in
all samples.
The growth of and aflatoxin production by Aspergillus
parasiticus (NRRL 2999) on natural and autoclaved cumin
and anise was studied by Llewellyn et al. (59) in Washington, D.C. Anise seeds and ground cumin were obtained
from a company in Virginia, while cumin seeds were
procured from a company in New Jersey, U.S.A. Country of
origin of the spices was not identified. Anise was reported to
be a better substrate for A. parasiticus than cumin, but both
anise and cumin seeds were found to support mycelial
growth, sporulation, and toxin production at room temperature if moisture was present in the samples. Aflatoxin
levels ranged from 0.83 to 6.5 ~g/g total for B 1, B 2, G I, and
G 2 in anise substrates. Only B l and G 1 were detected in
cumin samples at levels ranging from 0.23 to 0.63 p.g/g.
Marashetty (60) studied aflatoxins and aspergillus contamination in Indian spices in work done in Canada. A rapid
method developed for the study was able to detect aflatoxin
B 1 in black pepper, red pepper, ginger, and turmeric
samples destined for export from India at levels of 15 to
120 p.g/g. The most common species found in the spices
during drying were in the Aspergillus flavus-orvzae group.
Aspergillus-loaded pods, insect infestation, and high relative humidity were associated with mold contamination of
red pepper warehoused in Karnataka, India.
In another Spanish study, Martinez et al. (61) evaluated the
aflatoxin-producing ability of 35 of the Aspergillus flavus
strains isolated from the spices used by Garrido et al. (55).
Aflatoxins B 1, B2, GI, and G 2 were isolated from strains of
A. flavus found in white pepper, black pepper, and cayenne
pepper. A. flavus isolated from mustard powder, mint, and
mugwort produced only B l and B2. The authors concluded
that a health risk could be associated with the spices if they
were to be used in foods with appropriate conditions for
growth of and aflatoxin production by the molds.
Martinez-Magana et al. (62), working in Spain, studied the
mycoflora and Aspergillusflavus contamination of Spanish
pepper. Fifty-four samples representing 16 commercial
brands of whole and ground black and white pepper, green
pepper, and cayenne pepper on sale in Spain were evaluated. Average contamination was reported to be in the
103-104 propagules/g range for all samples, with the highest counts in white pepper and the lowest in green pepper.
The major mycofiora were Aspergillus and Penicillium spp.,
with A. flavus and A. glaucus most commonly isolated.
Twenty percent of the A. flavus isolates were reported to be
aflatoxigenic.
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was used by
Notermans et al. (63) in The Netherlands to detect mold in a
variety of foods including spices. Samples of foods collected from commercial stores over a 3-y period were first
tested for the presence of aflatoxin B 1. Those found to
contain the aflatoxin were then tested for mold antigens

lwl/vol.28 (1995) No. 1

maximum of 8 I~g/kg reported for one sample of cayenne


pepper.
Samples of bishopweed, black pepper, coriander, and cumin
obtained from the Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, India
were evaluated for fungal contamination by Shrivastava and
Jain (68). Fungi detected included Aspergillus flavus, A.
niger, A. ochraceus, Penicillium spp., Rhizopus stolonifer,
R. arrhizus, and Syncephalastrum racemosum. Although
frequency of the molds varied widely from spice to spice,
higher levels of mold contamination were detected using
malt salt agar than when spice extract agar was used.
A chromatographic method for determination of aflatoxin in
spices was developed by Suzuki et al. (69) in Chicago,
Illinois, U.S.A. Spices from Indonesia, Malaysia, and India
were used in this study. Samples of black pepper, nutmeg,
and celery seed were the only ones found to contain
substantial quantities of aflatoxins. Black pepper samples
were reported to contain 1.8 to 3.7p.p.b. aflatoxin Gi and
1.1 p.p.b, aflatoxin G 2. Nutmeg samples were reported to
contain 2.5 to 5.5 p.p.b, aflatoxin Bi and 0.75 to 1.1 p.p.b.
aflatoxin B2. One sample of celery seed was found to
contain 3.7 p.p.b, aflatoxin G I.
Takahashi (70) examined 67 samples of whole and ground
nutmeg commercially available in Japan between 1986 and
1991 for aflatoxin contamination using two-dimensional
thin layer chromatography. Aflatoxins were detected in 29
of the samples representing six brands in the Japanese
study. Interfering spots which prevented detection of one or
more aflatoxins were determined to be due to oxidation or
thermal degeneration of cinnamon leaves found in a 5 : 3
(nutmeg : cinnamon) spice mixture being analysed.

9
10

of cumin seeds and chilli powder sold in retail shops in the city
of Bombay. Journal of Food Protection, 50, 418-419
(1987)
DE BOER, E. AND BOOT, E. M. Comparison of methods for
isolation and confirmation of Clostridium perfringens from
spices and herbs. Journal of Food Protection, 46, 533-536
(1983)
DE BOER, E., SPIEGELENBERG, W. M. AND JANSSEN, F. W.
Microbiology of spices and herbs. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek,
51, 435-438 (1985)
CASTELL,C. H. Thermophilic bacteria in foods and in various
ingredients entering into the manufacture of foods. Food
Research, 9, 410-414 (1944)
CHRISTENSEN,C. M., FANSE, H. A., NELSON, G. H., BATES,
F. AND MIROCHA, C. J. Microflora of black and red pepper.

Applied Microbiology, 15, 622-626 (1967)


11 DACARRO, C., MANGIAROTTI, m. AND SPECCHIARELLO, M.
Contamination of spices: the pepper, lgiene Moderna, 100,
438-448 (1993). Cited in Food Science and Technology
Abstracts, 26, 3T71 (1994)
12 DEHNE, L. I. AND BOGL, K. W. Pasteurization of spices by
microwave and high frequency. Food Marketing and Technology, 7, 35-38 (1993). Cited in Food Science and Technology
Abstracts, 26, IT53 (1994)
13 FRANCO, S. L., GIMENEZ, J. L., MARTINEZ-SANCHEZ, F.
AND ROMOJARO, F. Effectiveness of ethylene oxide and

14

15
16
17

Summary
18

Spices can contribute a significant number of microorganisms to food products. Although black pepper has often
been reported to contain the highest microbial loads, all
spices and herbs are susceptible to microbial contamination.
Growing conditions, harvesting and processing methods,
storage conditions, and post-harvest treatments should be
carefully controlled to prevent potential food spoilage and
food-borne illnesses due to contaminated spices and herbs.

19

20

21
References

22

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