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Food fraud: Commission publishes results of first EU-wide survey about herbs and spices authenticity

Coordinated control programmes, information and data collection

date:  23/11/2021

Today, the Commission published the results of the first coordinated control plan on the authenticity of herbs and spices launched by DG SANTE and carried out by twenty-one EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway.

Nearly 10,000 analyses were carried out by the JRC on 1885 samples, using a range of state-of-the-art analytical techniques to assess the authenticity of six different herbs and spices. The percentage of samples which were deemed at risk of adulteration were 17% for pepper, 14% for cumin, 11% for curcuma, 11% for saffron and 6% for paprika/chilli. Oregano was identified as the most vulnerable with 48% of samples at risk of contamination, with olive leaves in most cases. Authenticity and purity of herbs and spices was assessed against relevant ISO standards. In case a sample did not comply with these provisions for extraneous matter and total ash, it was considered to be suspicious of adulteration. In addition, the outcome of additional tests targeting certain biomarkers of herbs and spices was used as supporting evidence. This was the first time that national authorities in charge of food controls and the Commission pooled their experience and resources together to focus on the herbs and spices sector with the aim to protect consumers from misleading, and potentially unsafe, products.

On the basis of these results, the Commission has already called on the operators for an immediate action plan to remedy the situation that is detrimental to consumers’ interests and health, but also to the herbs and spices sector itself and its fair operators. The Commission also invited national authorities to increase official controls in the sector with a view to continuing deterring fraudulent practices and sanctioning fraud perpetrators.

Background:

Information indicated that adulterated herbs and spices were present on the EU market but remain often undetected. Therefore, in 2019 the European Commission set up a coordinated control plan inviting the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland to sample certain herbs and spices and send them for analysis in its Joint Research Centre. The coordinated control plan is until now the largest investigation into the authenticity of culinary herbs and spices in terms of participating countries and number of analyses.

For more information, visit the dedicated web page, which includes Q&As.