Heavy Metals in Spices
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Overview

The Department's Division of Food Safety and Inspection is responsible for the regulatory oversight of facilities who hold, distribute, or process spices for human consumption and for ensuring those products are not adulterated. Adulteration of spices can be due to the presence of pathogens, unallowed colors, or the presence of heavy metals at a level which may cause harm to consumers.

This page contains information related to the recall action level for spices which are determined to be violative for heavy metals.

Background

Spices sampled by the Division of Food Safety and Inspection have previously tested positive for the presence of unallowed dyes, some of which contained levels of various heavy metals. Additionally, heavy metals may be present in various spices due to the growing environment. The Department sampled and analyzed over 1000 spices as a means of gathering data to determine what actions would be appropriate to address these concerns as there is no Federal standard for identifying recall action levels. In 2018, the Department and the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment formed an interagency collaboration to determine actionable limits of contaminants commonly found in spices, particularly heavy metals.

Research

Collaborating with the Department of Health, the Department conducted research focused on reviewing laboratory surveillance data, toxicity data, and spice consumption rates to identify which heavy metals were commonly found in spices and, of those, which pose a risk to human health. Inorganic arsenic, cadmium, and lead were determined to be the heavy metals of concern. Informed by these assessments and sampling data on concentration of heavy metals in spices, the Department lowered New York State's Class II action levels for inorganic arsenic, cadmium, and lead in spices by a factor of almost 5 times.

Proposed Action Levels

New York is the first state in the nation to propose action levels for heavy metals in spices, providing better protection to New York State consumers.

A chart showing the action levels.

*Implementation of the proposed action levels will occur over a time period of 18 months. The start date will be posted here when it has been determined.

Webinar Materials

A webinar was held for stakeholders on May 25, 2021. The presentation from that webinar can be found below, and a recording of the meeting is available online.