Proper Storage and Handling of Spices

Nature gives spices a remarkably protective cell structure. Whole spices, dried and stored, have been known to keep for many years and then deliver potent flavor when ground. Ground spices and herbs are more fragile, but when stored (cool, dry), they have a “life” adequate for any normal manufacturing and foodservice service kitchen needs (from six months to a year if necessary). The customer, however, should’t test their limits.

Here are some basic rules on storing and handling spices that will help protect your investments.

Keep away from heat

At the very least, they need to be kept cool and dry ….. never near a smokehouse or kitchen range or other source of high heat; never in a wash-down area or by the dishwasher or other place where the containers are apt to get wet or humidity gets high. In large-scale storage, the containers should always by palletized and kept away from outside walls.

Keep it cool and dry

Cool means no higher that 68 F (20 C) and dry is no higher than 60% relative humidity.

Cold storage is recommended

If possible, cold storage (32 F to 45 F) is highly recommended, particularly for the capsicums (paprika, red pepper, etc.) and spices where volatile oil and/or characteristic odors are important quality attributes (i.e. allspice, cloves, dill, parsley flakes, etc.). At 70 to 80 F, paprika will lose about 1% of its color every 10 days. At higher temperatures, losses are even more rapid. In cold storage, however, paprika’s color loss is reduced to ½% every 10 days and therefore, it can be held satisfactorily for up to 6 months. Cold storage also protects against infestation and rancidity in the fixed oils (of such items as sesame and poppy seeds).

Keep away from light

Light sensitive items such as paprika, parsley flakes, chives and other green herbs need to be protected against direct exposure to sunlight and florescent lights.

Let your supplier do the storing

Unless you have ample and adequate storage capacity, the best strategy is to let your supplier do as much of the storing as possible. Calculate you long-term needs and contract for them, which will hold the price. But schedule the shipments to meet currents needs only (i.e. up to 90 days). This way you’ll have less money tied up in inventory and you let the experts do the storing. A good supplier has optimal storage conditions, including cold storage when it’s needed, and has the turnover that keeps his stocks fresh.

Train your personnel

The final key is making sure your personnel understand the nature of spices and treat them properly in the plant or kitchen. Closing containers quickly after every use, measuring with dry utensils and keeping them away from steam are crucial. Explain that when you can smell a spice it means its aroma and flavors are escaping. Spices have a lot of fragrance to give, but this is money, and its only good business practice to save as much as possible.