Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Safer herbs and spices

An EU team has developed systems to detect and neutralise contaminants in herbs and spices. Innovations include chemical fingerprinting methods, chemometrics, and decontamination systems, which together provide improved protection.
Safer herbs and spices
Spices and herbs, although mostly sold in dried form, can still harbour bacteria and harmful substances. Furthermore, such products often originate from outside the EU, posing a security risk from deliberate tampering.

The EU-funded SPICED (Securing the spices and herbs commodity chains in Europe against deliberate, accidental or natural biological and chemical contamination) project secured Europe's spice supply against contamination.

Research involved hazard assessment in supply chains, improving understanding of biological hazard properties, and use of fingerprinting methods to identify chemical alterations. Lastly, the team improved alerting and decontamination systems, as well as prevention and response techniques.

Team researchers conducted a supply chain and network analysis and a consumption survey, and studied the decontamination of paprika. They also devised an effective sampling strategy for detecting chemical and microbial contamination.

Additionally, the group improved inoculation methods for artificial spiking, and analysed survival rates of bacteria in various herb/spice matrices. Investigators established a database of diagnostic methods, optimised sample preparation, and differentiated living from non-living bacteria in samples. The team developed and evaluated qualitative and quantitative detection methods for biological contaminants, and conducted a trial to standardise diagnostics.

The study concluded that heterogeneous matrices of spices and herbs challenge conventional detection techniques to the limits, and must therefore be adapted. Some microorganisms can survive within herbs and spices for months or years. The details depend on species, on the herb/spice matrix, and on the form of contamination.

A main result of the investigation was improved diagnostics. Chemical fingerprinting techniques, in combination with chemometrics, proved useful for ensuring the authenticity of spices and herbs. The project's new techniques were able to detect adulterant material in a non-targeted way. Such methods, especially those considered high-throughput, proved valuable in protecting the authenticity of spices throughout the supply chain.

SPICED yielded better public information about food safety issues, and improved awareness among policymakers of data limitations in spice and herb supply chains. Thus, Europeans will be better protected from food contamination.

Related information


Herbs, spices, chemical fingerprinting, chemometrics, SPICED, contamination
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