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Archaeologists and scholars trace the origin of the “Spice Trade” to as early as 3000 B.C. in the ancient port city of Muzris, located in Kerala on India’s Malabar coast. Merchants often referred to Kerala as the “Spice Garden of India,” and sought ways to acquire these coveted spices.  As early as the 1st Century, Greek and Roman traders often sent excursions to Kerala and other Asian ports to purchase spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric, to bring back and sell to eager Europeans craving the exotic flavors. The market for spices flourished in the 15th Century during the “Age of Discovery” when Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and other adventurers searched for the best routes to reach Asian ports to acquire spices for a geographically expanding market.

Demand for spices continues today, both for their flavor enhancing properties and potential salubrious effects. To meet this demand, food scientists have developed a myriad of flavorings and additives, both natural and synthetic, to compete with or complement traditional spices.

Although traced back to ancient times, classic spices, and their contemporary, commercially produced brethren, can present modern food safety challenges. Traditionally, due to low water activity, food scientists have considered low moisture foods (LMF) (spices, flavorings, seeds) relatively low risk for microbial contamination. However, empirical data indicate that LMFs increasingly serve as vehicles for foodborne contamination, particularly harboring Salmonella, and have been the subject of multiple recalls in recent years.  It is true that due to low water activity, Salmonella does not proliferate in LMFs. However, the pathogen, once introduced, can survive for long periods in the dry environment, and a relatively low level of Salmonella can cause serious illness in vulnerable consumers.

Compounding the problem, many rapid pathogen detection methods and instruments are ineffectual on these dry, complex matrices. As a result, manufacturers must utilize slower cultural techniques, thereby delaying time to results and the subsequent release of products for consumption.

Due to this difficulty, a method verification study is recommended to assure a rapid method is fit for purpose for many LMFs.  Q Laboratories’ Microbiology Research and Development Laboratory has extensive experience performing verification studies on various food matrices, including LMFs. Due to our status as the leading microbiological diagnostic validation lab, we are particularly adept at identifying and verifying the proper rapid method for use on LMFs.   

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