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April 25, 2024

Government Mandates Ethylene Oxide Testing for Spice Exports to Hong Kong and Singapore: Ensuring Safety and Quality

Government Takes Action: Ethylene Oxide Testing Mandatory for Spice Exports to Hong Kong and Singapore

In response to recent bans on specific spice exports from Indian brands MDH and Everest by Singapore and Hong Kong, the Indian government has issued a directive mandating the testing of ethylene oxide (ETO) in all spice exports bound for these countries. This decision follows consultations between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Spices Board, and industry stakeholders.

Ethylene oxide, categorized as a carcinogenic pesticide, has sparked concerns about food safety and export quality standards. While spice exports to these nations already require mandatory testing for the carcinogen Aflatoxin and the dye Sudan I-IV, ETO testing has been mandatory for shipments exported to the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Stringent monitoring for ETO presence will now also be extended to spice shipments to other destinations, according to officials.

The Commerce Ministry has instructed Indian embassies in Singapore and Hong Kong to provide detailed reports on the issue and has sought information from MDH and Everest regarding the contamination matter. Additionally, the ministry has reached out to the Singapore Food Agency, the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in Hong Kong for further details.

India’s spice exports in the financial year 2022-23 amounted to nearly Rs 32,000 crore, covering major items such as chilli, cumin, spice oil and oleoresins, turmeric, curry powder, and cardamom.

Understanding the MDH and Everest Masala Controversy

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region revealed the presence of ethylene oxide in MDH Group’s madras curry powder, sambhar masala powder, and curry powder. Prior to that, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) ordered a recall of India’s Everest fish curry masala due to ethylene oxide contamination detected beyond acceptable limits.

Sp Muthiah & Sons, the importer, were directed by the SFA to recall the affected products, with the public urged to avoid consuming them.

Following the actions against Indian spices in these two countries, India’s spice exports regulator has requested MDH and Everest to provide details of quality checks. A senior official at the Spices Board of India, responsible for overseeing quality standards and testing guidelines, stated that the companies have been asked to explain how the products were tested and if all regulations were adhered to.

“We need to get the relevant details on how this has happened … We need to check if the conditions required by importing countries were met and if our regulations were met,” said the official.

Understanding Ethylene Oxide and Its Dangers

Ethylene oxide has been classified as a known human carcinogen by both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Long exposure to ethylene oxide is associated with increased risk of lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer. Moreover, ETO exposure may affect the nervous system, causing symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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