The Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in Germany has called on manufacturers and importers to increase checks to ensure the safety of spices.

Industry is responsible for the quality and compliance of spices with maximum residue levels. The agency told those involved in the sector, particularly paprika and chili powder players, to strengthen their controls so that goods failing to meet legal requirements are not placed on the market.

Because of production, processing and storage methods, spices such as chili powder, pepper or paprika sometimes contain mycotoxins, residues of pesticides or heavy metals. However, as spices are only used in small quantities, there is generally no immediate health risk for consumers, according to the BVL.

Investigations by federal states have repeatedly tested samples in previous years where the legal maximum levels were exceeded.

Mycotoxin findings
In 2018, 144 samples of paprika powder were tested for aflatoxin and Ochratoxin A in nationwide monitoring. Compared to a similar study in 2012, aflatoxin levels were slightly lower. Ochratoxin A in paprika powder was significantly higher in 2018 than for the other products examined.

In 2017, there were also studies on mycotoxin in spices. In the investigation of black pepper as well as chili and paprika spices, the levels measured were overall at low levels.

Findings show the level of mycotoxins in food can fluctuate from year to year because of weather conditions. Spices can also become moldy in the home if stored incorrectly, according to the BVL.

In 2018 and 2019, there were 16 and 13 alerts of mycotoxins in paprika and chili powder in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). This corresponds to 41 percent of all reports on mycotoxins in herbs and spices in 2019.

The European Commission and member states monitor these notifications and if there are continued issues then increased checks can be placed on a product coming from outside the EU. In a recent update to foods subject to enforced entry controls from certain countries, consignments of spice mixes from Pakistan were added to the list due to possible aflatoxin contamination.

Heavy metals and pesticide residues
Paprika powder was examined in 2018 monitoring for heavy metals. In comparison to other investigated foods, there was a higher exposure to lead, copper, chromium and aluminum. However, the maximum level for copper of 40 milligrams per kilogram was not exceeded in any samples tested.

Comparatively high levels of lead, aluminum, nickel, chromium and thallium were also found for black pepper during 2017 monitoring. Chemical elements such as heavy metals can get into food through air, water and soil.

BVL advised manufacturers to check whether the metal content in spices can be reduced by using different processing techniques.

Investigations by federal states have also often found pesticide residues in spices. In 2017, residues of several active substances were found in 70 percent of 23 chili powder samples. Almost a quarter exceeded the maximum residue limits.

A total of 13 percent of 54 paprika powder samples also had residues above the limit. In comparison, in 2018 only 2.9 percent of 137 samples of paprika powder exceeded the maximum residue levels.

A possible reason for exceeding the maximum residue levels for dried chili and paprika powder is a concentration of residues during the drying stage of the fresh products treated with pesticides, according to the BVL.

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