Baltimore-based McCormick & Co., the largest spice company in the world, sources its turmeric from India. Laurie Harrsen, senior director of consumer communications says that, “We conduct millions of product analyses each year by testing for contaminants, flavor characteristics and more to ensure the safety and quality of our products. In addition, we have specific programs in place to monitor heavy metals like lead.”
Peter Lurie, the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that the principal health risk is to the workers in the spice production plants who are being exposed to a known hazard. He said that there are two kinds of food adulteration — one to bulk up and increase the volume of something valuable, the other to confer some kind of particular characteristic, in this case, color — but that consumption of turmeric in dietary supplements and in foods is still nominal.
Forsyth and fellow researchers plan to focus on shifting consumer behaviors away from eating contaminated turmeric and reducing incentives for the practice. They also recommend those import inspectors around the world screen turmeric with X-ray devices that can detect lead and other chemicals.
As for U.S. consumers of turmeric, Forsyth said that because the FDA has been aware of the threat for the past few years, there may have been greater scrutiny on more recent imports.
“The risk is greatest if your turmeric is older,” she said. “If you have old turmeric, consider replacing it with one of the most mainstream brands.”