• Tue. May 28th, 2024

Food Safety Body’s New Carcinogen Check Method Amid Row Over Indian Spices

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May 15, 2024

The sales ban on some Indian spices in Hong Kong and Singapore has prompted the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to come up with a new method to detect Ethylene Oxide in spices, top official sources have said.

A chemical widely used in spices as a disinfectant, Ethylene Oxide is known to be carcinogenic. Hong Kong and Singapore flagged its presence while imposing a ban on several products by Indian spice giants — MDH and Everest.

This method, the sources said, is more accurate and has been validated by ICAR-National Research Centre For Grapes — the food safety regulator’s national reference laboratory.

According to the sources, this new method will be used to detect Ethylene Oxide in products imported to other countries, those exported from abroad and those manufactured for domestic use.

The method, sources said, can detect Ethylene Oxide in packaged items too. In the wake of the action against Indian spices in Hong Kong and Singapore, over 1,500 samples have been collected from markets and spice factories and sent for lab tests.

What Is Ethylene Oxide

At the centre of the ban on Indian spices in Hong Kong and Singapore is a chemical, Ethylene Oxide, which is used as a disinfectant for spices. However, it is known to have carcinogenic properties. According to the International Agency For Research on Cancer, ethylene oxide is a Group 1 carcinogenic, meaning “there is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans”.

In a press note announcing its decision to ban some Indian spices, Singapore said “ethylene oxide is allowed to be used in the sterilisation of spices”, but added that “exposure to this substance should be minimised as much as possible”. “Although there is no immediate risk to consumption of food contaminated with low levels of ethylene oxide, long term exposure may lead to health issues,” the statement said. It added that ethylene oxide is not authorised for use in food in Singapore.

How India Has Responded

The Centre has said India has one of the stringent norms for minimising pesticide residues in food items. “Some media reports are claiming that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) allows 10 times more pesticide residue in herbs and spices. Such reports are false and malicious,” the Health Ministry said earlier this month, adding that India has one of the most stringent standards of Maximum Residue Limits in the world.

Following the ban in Hong Kong and Singapore, the FSSAI has collected samples and sent them for testing. The Spices Board has come out with detailed guidelines for exporters to prevent ethylene oxide contamination in products shipped from India. The guidelines say exporters would avoid its use as a sterilising agent and ensure that transporters, warehouses, packaging material suppliers do not use this chemical at any stage.

MDH has denied the allegations of ethylene oxide use. “We reassure our buyers and consumers that we do not use Ethylene Oxide at any stage of storing, processing, or packing our spices,” it said amid reports of the ban last month. It had then said it had not received any communication from authorities in Singapore or Hong Kong. Everest, too, had denied that its products have been banned in Singapore and Hong Kong and said one of its 60 products sold in Singapore was being examined. 

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