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May 11, 2024

Spices Board Issues Guidelines to Combat Ethylene Oxide Contamination in Exports

The Spices Board has released comprehensive guidelines aimed at tackling the issue of ethylene oxide (EtO) contamination in Indian spice exports. With concerns raised by certain countries regarding the quality of these goods, the board’s guidelines focus on ensuring the safety and integrity of spice products throughout the supply chain.

According to the newly formulated guidelines, exporters are instructed to refrain from using EtO as a sterilizing or fumigating agent in spices, as well as ensuring that transporters, storage facilities, and packaging suppliers do not utilize this chemical at any stage of production or distribution.

Exporters are further required to implement measures to detect and prevent EtO and its metabolites in spices and spice products, integrating these considerations into their Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Food Safety Management System.

In instances where EtO contamination is detected, exporters must conduct a root cause analysis and implement appropriate preventive measures to avoid recurrence, maintaining detailed records of their actions. To minimize the risk of contamination, exporters are encouraged to explore alternative sterilization methods such as steam sterilization, irradiation, and other methods approved by the food regulator, FSSAI.

These guidelines come in response to recent incidents where popular spice brands, including MDH and Everest, were banned in Hong Kong and Singapore due to the detection of ethylene oxide, leading to mandatory recalls. The Spices Board emphasizes that spices, herbs, and their source plants should not be accepted if they are known to contain microbial contaminants that cannot be reduced to acceptable levels through normal processing procedures.

Special precautions are outlined to reject spices and herbs showing signs of pest damage, infestation, or mold growth to eliminate potential hazards such as mycotoxins like aflatoxins. Raw materials are required to undergo inspection, cleaning, and sorting before processing to ensure quality and safety.

To prevent cross-contamination, raw products presenting potential hazards must be processed separately from end-products, and effective measures should be taken at all stages of processing to prevent contact with contaminated materials.

During packaging, non-porous bags or containers should be used to protect spices and herbs from contamination, moisture, and infestation. It is recommended that new bags or containers be used for food contact packaging to maintain quality standards.

For transportation, products must be dried to a safe moisture level to prevent mold and pathogen growth, and vehicles used for transportation must be clean, dry, and odor-free to avoid contamination. Monitoring of temperature and humidity during transportation, especially for products with longer transit times, is advised to maintain quality.

India’s spice exports totaled USD 4.25 billion in 2023-24, representing 12% of the global spice trade. Major exports include chilli powder, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, mixed spices, and spice oils. The global spice trade is valued at USD 35 billion, with China as the top exporter.

In conclusion, these guidelines set by the Spices Board aim to uphold the reputation of Indian spices in the global market while ensuring consumer safety and quality standards are met at every stage of production and distribution.

 

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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