As consumers are becoming increasingly more interested in the source of their food, ASTA is aware that the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead in herbs and spices has received more attention recently. ASTA members are committed to the goal of limiting heavy metals levels in spices to be as low as feasible. Manufacturers work with suppliers to encourage agricultural best practices to reduce levels of heavy metals. Suppliers and sellers are expected to institute quality control, monitoring, and testing protocols to adhere to regulatory requirements.
Trace amounts of heavy metals in spices are largely unavoidable – the concentration of metals naturally varies due to where and how spices are grown, soil conditions, and harvesting and processing methods. Heavy metal exposure from natural spices does not trigger concern under applicable thresholds, such as Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) or Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) reference levels for lead.
ASTA supports industry efforts with resources for the detection and prevention of these substances and works with regulatory agencies, including the FDA and international food safety bodies, to establish heavy metal limits for spices that are both protective and achievable.
The average American consumer eats only a fraction of a gram of spices per day, and the average trace amounts of heavy metals that are found in spices are not dangerous to consumers. Most dietary lead exposure originates from drinking water, fruits, grains, and dairy products, rather than from spices.
As part of its goal to limit heavy metal levels in spices to be as low as feasible, ASTA publishes a guide on Good Agricultural Practices for spice producers to understand how to best grow crops, manage irrigation, monitor soils, and safely transport product to minimize heavy metal uptake from the environment. ASTA works with producers and other partners, such as the Sustainable Spice Initiative, around the world to conduct research on how to mitigate heavy metals during growing and provide training on these practices.