Are Your Herbs & Spices Contaminated?

herbsIllustrated By Jenny Kraemer.
There’s so much to love about your local farmers' market; you get fresh produce and you get to justify your impulsive purchase of that “No Farms, No Food” bumper sticker. As you're blissfully strolling from vendor to vendor, it's hard to believe this green-friendly, Instagram-worthy place could be a risk to your health. But, if you’re shopping for seasoning from those open containers of colorful spices, you might be purchasing more than just flavor.
In a sampling from farmers' markets and bulk vendors in the Kansas City metro area, researchers found that four out of 10 spices registered at least one of three contaminants, including heavy metals (like lead or iron), mycotoxins (toxins left behind after food gets damp and molds), and bacteria (including salmonella).
The spices that most frequently tested positive for salmonella were black pepper, thyme, oregano, and turmeric — pretty run-of-the-mill cooking fare. How do these common herbs and spices manage to be major carriers of bacteria? Unfortunately, the causes of contamination are the same things that make farmers' markets unique: Unlike in a grocery store, a market's bulk herbs are usually displayed out in the open, allowing you (and everyone else) a chance to get a whiff of that freshly harvested goodness before you buy. Charming? Yes. Healthy? Not quite. That open-air approach makes spices vulnerable to the elements — and to the touching, sniffing, and coughing of shoppers. Farms themselves may also be to blame; heavy metals can find their way into produce if a farm's irrigation system uses industrial wastewater or rusty harvesting equipment.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid the risks of contaminated spices; you’re safe as long as you plan on using them in a dish cooked at 160 degrees or higher. But, if you're just looking for some black pepper to grind and use raw, the prepackaged kind from the grocery store is your safest bet for staying bacteria- and metals-free. Because, heavy metal belongs on your iPod — not in your food.

More from Diet & Nutrition

Halloween (prime vampire season) is coming up, so it's only natural if you've been eating more garlic lately. The only downside of all that supernatural ...
When you get pregnant, the food advice you receive tends to revolve around what you supposedly can't eat or drink: sushi, seafood, alcohol, soft cheeses...
If you live in the Northeast of the U.S., you might want to check on the meat in your fridge. The CDC announced on Saturday that it is investigating a ...
On Wednesday, I was in one of those elevators with a news and advertising screen when I was faced yet again with the results of the month of sobriety ...
How many times have you woken up with a disgusting hangover after a heavy night and vowed never to drink again? Well, this common plight could one day be...
It seems like everyone’s looking for ways to eat more protein. And there’s a good reason for it, too: Often known as the “building block” of the body, ...
While you'll probably never hear anyone raving about the deliciousness of their school cafeteria hot lunch, it's a much better alternative to not having it...
On Monday, Kellogg's recalled 10,000 Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles packages that were potentially contaminated. And on Wednesday, Blue Bell Creameries ...
If you haven't yet heard the word “gluten,” you've probably been living under a rock. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus have embraced the...
If Stranger Things reawakened your childhood love for the ubiquitous Eggo waffle, we have some pretty upsetting news. On Monday, Kellogg's voluntarily ...
Apple cider vinegar's (ACV) reputation as a miracle cure certainly isn't new — supposedly even the Ancient Greeks were into the stuff. Today, though, the...
Hackers leaked the medical files of Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Venus Williams, and basketball player Elena Delle Donne early Tuesday, the World Anti-...
This article was originally published on April 26, 2016. Yes, it's true that health food can be staggeringly expensive — especially if it's something ...
We don't do diets. But we still love to eat — and we want to eat well. In her column, How To Eat, Refinery29's favorite intuitive eating coach Christy ...