In late November, the European Commission and 21 EU Member States, Switzerland, and Norway published the EU Food Fraud Network’s Herb & Spice Coordinated Control Plan (EUCCP) report.
Based on analysis of nearly 2,000 samples, the research found that 17% of the herbs and spices were “suspicious of being adulterated.” The study suggested the oregano supply chain emerged as the most vulnerable, with half of the samples adulterated.
Other suspect ingredient samples include:
- 17% of pepper.
- 14% of cumin.
- 11% of Curcuma (turmeric).
- 11% of saffron.
- 6% of paprika/chili.
Annually, the EU produces around 100,000 tons of herbs and spices and imports more than three times that much.
Industry responds quickly
Some have already taken the research to heart, led by global spice giant McCormick and Co.
The company performed an exhaustive review of its internal fraud mitigation procedures while calling for a formal industry-wide whistleblower program, according to reporting from Food Manufacture.
“As leaders in this sector, McCormick welcomes the publication of this report,” McCormick’s president of Europe Middle East and Africa Chris Jinks told the website. “Although disappointed but the suspicious fraudulent activities highlight across the broader industry, we’re pleased this issue is getting much-needed attention.”
Causes of adulterated herbs and spices
Adulteration can occur at any stage of the supply chain before the finished product reaches the consumer. The most common cases of fraud, according to the EU Commission, include:
- Ingredients, additives, dyes, or any other constituent not approved in food and/or herbs and spices.
- Ingredients, additives, dyes, or any other constituent approved for use in food but unlawfully not declared or indicated in a form that might mislead the customer.
- Spices or herbs that have had any valuable constituent left out or removed, deceiving the customer.
- A different part of the same plant, rather than the one declared to the extent that’s misleading.
- Avoidable amounts of parts from other plants in addition to what’s declared.
Most adulterated samples contained undeclared plant material, and 2% of the spice samples included unauthorized dyes. For example, one sample had a high level of lead chromate.