Background: The study of fungal contamination in food and mycotoxicoses is a priority today,
both internationally and nationally. The purpose of this study is to have a general view over the quality of
the most common spices that are sold in Romanian markets, by assessing the degree of fungal, bacterial
and mycotoxin contamination in pepper and chili powders.
Methods: We tested four types of spices: white pepper, black pepper, sweet and hot chili powders from
12 different distributing companies, summing a total of 35 sample types. The fungal and bacterial
load was assessed by Standard Plate Count, while the mycotoxin content by High-performance liquid
chromatography. Environmental conditions (humidity, pH) and the selling price for each product were
Results: Fungi were observed in 72.7% of black pepper samples, 33.3% in white pepper, 30% in sweet
chili and 25% in hot chili products. The most common isolated fungus was Aspergillus spp., while
Rhizopus, Mucor, Fusarium, Penicillium, Absidia species were found, in smaller percentage. Four
producers (44.4%) presented fungal contamination of over 10^3 CFU/g and two producers (22.2%)
presented no fungal contamination in their products. Bacterial contamination was found in 85.7% of the
tested products, consisting mostly in Bacillus spp. Aflatoxin B1 was present in all the tested products,
mostly in black pepper (mean value 126.3 ng/g); Ochratoxin A was present in sweet chili (mean value
328 ng/g) and Zearalenone in hot chili (mean value 604 ng/g) and sweet chili (mean value 382 ng/g).
Conclusion: All spices presented either fungal contamination, mycotoxin contamination, or both. The
high humidity and the high pH of spices represent favorable conditions for fungal growth. The selling
price was partly related to the physic-chemical conditions and microbiological quality of the spices.