April 26, 2018

Got Pepper? You May Have Salmonella Too

Many foods we don’t think about when considering food poisoning can, in fact, be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. For instance, not many people know that all foods containing raw flour should be baked, since that product can be contaminated with bacteria. And a study published in Food Microbiology ahead of print for May 2013 looked at the growth and survival of Salmonella in ground black pepper.

SalmonellaIn the past, spices have been recalled for bacterial contamination. In December 2011, there was several recalls of organic celery seeds for possible Salmonella contamination, and in January 2012, Jones’ Seasoning recalled their Mock Salt for possible Salmonella.

In the study, scientists inoculated ground black pepper with a cocktail of Salmonella, then monitored the bacterial growth at different temperatures and humidity levels. They found that at high humidity and temperature levels, Salmonella grew easily in ground black pepper. Under “ambient” humidity, they found that the bacteria survived in the black pepper for more than one year.

So what’s the consumer to do? Treat spices and other baking ingredients the same as you would other raw foods. Cross-contamination is probably the most likely source of bacterial introduction. On many food television shows, I see hosts handling raw meats, then reaching into salt and pepper containers to season the food without washing their hands, which is a guaranteed recipe for contamination. Always wash your hands after touching raw meats and raw eggs and before touching other ingredients. Avoid cross-contamination and store all foods in sealed, individual containers. And store spices tightly closed so water available to aid in bacterial growth is reduced.

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