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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Contaminants in imported spices

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Results of heavy metals and pesticides in imported dried spices

(MPI testing New Zealand 2012)

New Zealand imports more than 2 million kilograms of spices each year. Only a very small amount of spices is produced domestically. Spices are subjected to a range of processing steps including cultivation and harvesting, drying, winnowing, transport, finish drying, grinding, packing, fumigation and storage. Most of these steps have the potential to introduce chemical contaminants into the spices. Environmental pollution is also a major cause of contamination in the food chain.

No. of samples collected for the test:

Cinnamon 16

Curry powder 16

Garam Masala 17

Nutmeg 15

Paprika 19

Pepper 16

Turmeric 16


The following table shows the test results for each spice - from the lowest to the highest numbers detected.

Especially concerning was the high amount of lead in the cinnamon samples - 10 of the 16 tested samples were very high.

An additional concern with imported spices is that they may be fumigated with Methyl Bromide when they enter New Zealand and pests are detected.

Methyl Bromide is a highly toxic gas that is used to prevent pests and diseases. It is toxic to our nervous system and is a developmental and reproductive toxin.

It may be used to fumigate commodities like grains, rice, spices, fruit and vegetables as well as containers arriving and departing NZ.

Nuts and spices have the following allowed Methyl Bromide residue levels:

Nuts 200 mg/kg

Spices 400 mg/kg

Since most of us only use very small amounts of spices, there is no need to panic.

With that said, spices are not the only contaminated food we eat. If you consider the amount of contaminants we consume every day - from conventional fruit and veggies, dairy products, grains, meats etc - there is little doubt that the wide range of toxins and pollutants can alter our epigenome, resulting in increased susceptibility to a host of different diseases.


Ministry for Primary Industries NZ:

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