Chili, pepper and Co: Spices are often contaminated with substances that are hazardous to health
With spices you can not only give dishes a special taste, but also do something good for your health. For example, chilies are known to protect the heart. But unfortunately there are always substances that are hazardous to health in spices.
The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) points out in a current notification that spices such as chili powder, pepper or paprika spice contain mold poison, residues of pesticides or heavy metals due to their production, processing and storage.
Generally no immediate health hazard
According to the BVL, the investigation offices of the federal states have repeatedly tested samples in the past years where the legal maximum levels were exceeded.
The BVL is therefore calling on importers and manufacturers to increase their own controls.
However, because spices are only used in small quantities, there is generally no immediate health risk for consumers.
Mold poison in paprika and chili powder
As the experts explain, mold spices (mycotoxins) such as aflatoxin / aflatoxins or ochratoxin A (OTA) can easily form in spices when stored too moist and warm.
In 2018 and 2019, there were 16 and 13 reports, respectively, of mold poison in paprika and chili powder in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
This corresponds to 41 percent of all reports of mycotoxins in herbs and spices in 2019.
According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), aflatoxins are "among the strongest poisons and carcinogenic substances found in nature".
According to experts, aflatoxins have shown carcinogenic effects (especially liver cancer) in animal experiments.
Exceeding the maximum salary cannot be excluded
As the BVL further explains, in 2018 nationwide monitoring 144 samples of paprika powder were examined for aflatoxin / aflatoxins and OTA.
Compared to a comparable study in 2012, the aflatoxin levels were somewhat lower, but it is still not entirely possible to rule out maximum levels exceeded for paprika powder from some third countries.
The OTA levels in paprika powder were significantly higher in 2018 than for all other products examined, but there were only four maximum levels exceeded.
Load fluctuates from year to year
In 2017, there were also focus studies on mold poison in spices.
When testing black pepper (representative of monitoring for aflatoxin / aflatoxine and ochratoxin A) as well as chilli and paprika spices (risk-oriented in the nationwide monitoring plan for ochratoxin A), the levels measured there were overall low according to the BVL.
This shows that the exposure of food to mold poisoning can fluctuate from year to year due to weather conditions. Since spices can also become moldy in the home if stored incorrectly, they should be kept dry and cool.
Higher exposure to heavy metals found
The presence of undesirable health elements such as heavy metals is also regularly checked by the official research laboratories of the federal states. For example, paprika powder was examined in the 2018 monitoring.
According to the information, a higher exposure to lead, copper, chromium and aluminum was found compared to other investigated foods. However, the legally stipulated maximum content for copper of 40 mg / kg was not exceeded in any of the samples examined.
Comparatively high levels of lead, aluminum, nickel, chromium and thallium were also found for black pepper in the 2017 monitoring.
Chemical elements such as heavy metals can get into food through air, water and soil, for example. The following also applies to heavy metals: The uptake by spices is comparatively low because they are only consumed in small quantities.
Pesticide residues too high
In the past, the investigation offices of the federal states have often found excessive residues of pesticides in spices.
While black pepper has been regularly monitored for years, in 2017 54 samples of paprika fruit spice (powder) and 23 samples of chilli fruit spice (powder) were examined for residues in a monitoring project.
Residues of several active substances were found in many samples - for example, 70 percent of the samples of chili powder. The maximum residue levels for black pepper, 7.5 percent for paprika powder and 26 percent for chili powder exceeded the residue levels.
In comparison, in 2018 only 2.9 percent of the 137 samples of paprika powder were found to exceed the maximum residue levels, multiple residues in only eight percent of the samples.
According to the BVL, one possible reason for exceeding the maximum residue levels for dried chilli and paprika powder is a concentration of the residues during the drying processes of the fresh products treated with pesticides.
Despite the maximum level being exceeded - due to the low consumption of spices - a health risk for consumers due to pesticide residues can be excluded. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.