Jars of spices lined up in a row.
June 7, 2021
Albany, NY

New York State Institutes Strictest Standards in the Country in its Testing of Spices

New York State Institutes Strictest Standards in the Country in its Testing of Spices
Lowers Recall Action Levels for the Presence of Heavy Metals in Spices by Five Times
Project Launched on the 3rd Annual World Food Safety Day, Highlighting Importance of Food Safety and Protecting the Food Supply

New York State today announced it has instituted the strictest action levels in the country for the presence of heavy metals in spices and related recall actions. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ (AGM) testing of spices in recent years has shown a need for tighter regulation of the heavy metal content and working with the Department of Health (DOH) has set new actionable limits of heavy metals in spices to protect public health. Based on AGM spice sampling data and the DOH’s development of health-based values, AGM lowered the State’s limits for heavy metals in spices by almost five times to establish the lowest action levels in the country. The announcement coincides with the third annual World Food Safety Day, highlighting the importance of food safety and New York’s efforts to protect the food supply.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said, “What these new action limits mean is that our Department now has the authority to pursue recalls or seize spice products that are found to have even the smallest amounts of the most harmful metals. With no federal action limit to follow, the Department has taken action to achieve this new standard for New York State, leading the way for the country and resulting in safer spice options for New Yorkers.”

Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said, “Heavy metal exposures to lead, cadmium, and arsenic from commonly used adulterated spices have been a public health problem for years nationwide. The Department has partnered with New York State Department Agriculture and Markets to investigate and recommend action levels for these metals most commonly found in food and we are proud of New York's national leadership role on this issue.”

Since 2016, New York’s previous action limit on heavy metals in spices has resulted in the recall of almost 100 contaminated products to date. As part of AGM’s work to ensure that the food and feed supply is safe, the Department’s Division of Food Safety and Inspection routinely inspects New York’s retail food establishments, investigates consumer complaints of foodborne illnesses, verifies product labeling, and collects food products for analysis and testing for adulterants and contaminants by the Department’s Food Laboratory. The New York State Food Laboratory tests many types of food as a regular course of business and laboratory results trigger inspectors to initiate recalls where necessary. The Food Laboratory has found that heavy metal contaminants are identified most often in spices.

The effort to derive action levels for heavy metals in spices was a joint project of AGM and DOH as an outgrowth of the Governor’s 2018 State of the State announcement that a Center of Excellence on Food Research would be established to tackle this problem.  

With these new action levels established, AGM hosted a webinar for the food industry—both manufacturers and retailers—and will begin an 18-month phase in, education, and outreach period before enforcement begins. The agency will also work with partners at the national level to raise awareness about the presence of heavy metal contamination in spices.

About World Food Safety Day

World Food Safety Day was created to draw attention and direct educational efforts to reducing the approximately 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses that occur annually across the globe.

AGM and DOH are at the forefront of food safety efforts in New York State with a vast network of food safety inspectors that inspect New York 's retail food establishments, food manufacturing plants, and restaurants, as well as state-of-the art laboratories committed to protecting and improving the health of New Yorkers through laboratory analysis, investigation, and research, as well as laboratory certification.

This week, in recognition of World Food Safety Day, New York is highlighting and increasing awareness about the importance of food safety— from farm to table —through education and food safety tips for consumers.