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Herbs and spices: taste experience without risk

21/2013, 02.08.2013

BfR coordinates EU project on the safety of the food chain for spices and herbs

From anise, basil and curry to pepper, paprika and cinnamon: herbs and spices expand the variety of flavors in our food. Although they are only used in small quantities, they are used in a wide variety of dishes. In addition, herbs and spices are often added to foods that are no longer heated afterwards. In these cases, possible contamination is not reduced. "So that herbs and spices do not pose a health risk for consumers, contamination with bacteria, fungi, toxins or chemical contaminants must be avoided along the entire retail chain," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (). In the EU project SPICED, data is to be collected that allow statements about the safety of herbs and spices. At the same time, measures are to be developed that can guarantee the safety of these foods. The three-year research project started in July 2013 and is coordinated by. Project partners are authorities, research institutions as well as relevant companies and trade associations from Germany, Austria, Latvia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland and Slovakia. Funding comes from the 7th Framework Program of the European Commission.

Most of the herbs and spices processed in the EU are imported from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, India, Turkey and China. Within the EU, Hungary and Romania are the main producers of spices, while herbs are mainly produced in France, Italy and Greece. In the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), the product category "Herbs and Spices" is listed in fourth position with regard to the number of product warnings: A total of around 75 percent of these reports refer to errors in the composition (e.g. addition of prohibited coloring) as well as contamination with fungal toxins (mycotoxins) and pathogenic germs (e.g. salmonella). All of these impurities can also have adverse effects on the health of the consumer.

The aim of the project "Securing the spices and herbs commodity chains in Europe against deliberate, accidental or natural biological and chemical contamination" (SPICED) is to improve the safety of the entire food chain for herbs and spices: from the growing areas of the plants to their import to Europe via processing and trading to the consumer.

The focus of the research is on the herbs and spices that are most commonly consumed in the EU. In particular, the international herb and spice product chains are considered as well as the weak points at which biological and chemical contamination can occur.

The SPICED project is intended to help avoid contamination of spices and herbs and to identify ways of narrowing down damage situations. It takes into account the risks of natural, accidental and deliberate contamination. The results of the research project will be published and made available to the relevant stakeholders.

About the

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment () is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (). It advises the federal government and the federal states on questions of food, chemical and product safety. This conducts its own research on topics that are closely related to its assessment tasks.