A recent Salmonella outbreak linked to chia powder sickened more than 50 people across the US and Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Speaking at the recent IFT event in New Orleans George Pontiakos said: “It’s mind-boggling that anyone is supplying chia to the consumer in an unsterilized manner. You’re taking a huge chance. There are so many good sterilization methodologies, and I just cannot imagine any kind of company with any type of marquee that would either offer it to the consumer as a retailer or sell it to a retailer unsterilized. It’s just totally unacceptable.”
The problem is significant, said Pontiakos, and companies have to subject chia to a kill step to kill the pathogens.
However, Pontiakos does not think that the headlines will damage the whole chia sector. “I think that some that proffer in the raw form have to take a look at what they are doing. Chia that is milled and put into a food product is very safe,” he said, “because it’s been through multiple kill steps.”
Indeed, the market for chia is going from strength to strength, with recent data from Mintel indicating that chia is being added to everything from bars to hot cereal. There has also been growing interest in the drinks aisle, with beverages accounting for 12% of new chia-based product launches in 2013, up from zero in 2009, according to the market researcher.
In geographical terms, North America had the lion’s share of chia global launches in 2013, accounting for 59% of new product introductions featuring chia (meanwhile Innova Market Insights says the number of new launches globally featuring chia rose 52% in 2013).
85% of the psyllium coming into the country is feed grade, said Pontiakos. “There is a tremendous amount of adulterated and misrepresented product coming into the food market... You have to be very careful about who you buy from.”