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Show 1291: Which Cooking Spices Are Contaminated?

Show 1291: Which Cooking Spices Are Contaminated?

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A Consumer Reports analysis found about one-third of cooking spices are contaminated. How can you find out which ones are safe?

Do you add thyme to your chicken soup? Basil and oregano to your pasta sauce? These herbs are staples in most kitchens, and they help good cooks make their meals extra-tasty. We love using herbs and spices ourselves when we cook. Consequently, we were dismayed to read that some cooking spices are contaminated with heavy metals. The findings were published in Consumer Reports (November 9, 2021).

Determining Which Cooking Spices Are Contaminated:

Scientists for Consumer Reports selected 15 of the most popular spices and herbs and purchased a total of 126 products as samples. They collected both nationally-recognized brands such as McCormick and private labels such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Then they had the contents analyzed with particular attention to levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic. You might be alarmed, as we were, to learn that 40 of these had worrisome levels of a heavy metal. That’s about one in three.

Thyme and oregano were especially contaminated. The analysis uncovered "concerning" levels of heavy metals in every sample of either herb.

Good News on Herbs and Spices:

Luckily, even if one in three samples of cooking spices are contaminated, that still means two-thirds are safe. And seven of the 15 flavor enhancers studied had very low levels of heavy metals in every brand. The CR tests did not detect problems with black pepper, coriander, curry powder, garlic powder, saffron, sesame seeds or white pepper. Moreover, none of the samples contained salmonella bacteria, which could cause food poisoning.

How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Household?

In most cases, we use spices and herbs in such small enough quantities that a single serving won’t be harmful. But for a few, including thyme and oregano, regular use could be a problem. That would be especially true for young children.

Cooks may want to grow some of their herbs. Thyme, oregano, parsley and basil are easy to grow in pots or a small plot of ground.

Parents should consider the family’s total exposure to heavy metals, in water or foods like rice or juice, as well as in seasonings.

Consumers can consult the list posted on Consumer Reports website to learn which brands passed the test and which cooking spices are contaminated.

This Week's Guest:

Lisa Gill is a health & medicine investigative reporter at Consumer Reports. Her article is here: Your Herbs and Spices Might Contain Arsenic, Cadmium, and Lead.

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