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May 13, 2024

Indian Spice Giant MDH Under Global Scrutiny: Rejections in the US and Hong Kong Raise Contamination Concerns

Indian spice giant MDH, known for its iconic spice blends, has come under intense global scrutiny due to multiple rejections of its shipments in the United States and Hong Kong, raising concerns about contamination in its products. According to a Reuters analysis of US regulatory data, since 2021, MDH has faced an average rejection rate of 14.5% of its US shipments, primarily due to the presence of bacteria.

Hong Kong recently suspended sales of three MDH spice blends and one from another Indian company, Everest, citing high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide. The pesticide in question, ethylene oxide, poses significant health risks with long-term exposure and is considered unfit for human consumption.

Both MDH and Everest have vehemently defended the safety of their products, with MDH stating that it does not use ethylene oxide at any stage of its spice processing. However, authorities in the United States, Australia, and India are currently investigating the matter.

India holds the title of the world’s largest spice producer, consumer, and exporter. In 2022, the domestic spice market was valued at $10.44 billion, with exports reaching $4 billion during the 2022-23 period, according to data from the Spices Board.

Before the recent scrutiny, MDH faced rejection in the US market due to the presence of salmonella, a bacteria known to cause gastrointestinal illness. Around 20% of MDH’s shipments to the US were rejected between October 2023 and May 2024, according to FDA data. In fiscal 2022-23, 15% of MDH shipments were rejected, mostly due to salmonella contamination.

Comparatively, Everest has had fewer rejections in the US, with only one shipment rejected for salmonella out of 450 in the ongoing fiscal year. Everest’s rejection rate stood at 3.7% in 2022-23, with no rejections the year before.

Both companies maintain that their products are safe, despite the scrutiny. An MDH spokesperson emphasized the safety of their products, while Everest highlighted its exceptional rejection rate of less than 1% for US shipments in fiscal 2023-2024.

The US FDA and the Spices Board are yet to comment on the issue. The Spices Board has been conducting inspections at MDH and Everest facilities to ensure compliance with quality standards, though the results have not been made public.

MDH and Everest have been prominent names in India’s spice industry for decades, providing essential ingredients for home kitchens and restaurants alike. However, in recent years, they have faced setbacks, including recalls and rejections in international markets over contamination concerns.

In 2019, MDH’s spice mix batches were recalled in the US due to salmonella contamination, while Everest faced a similar situation in 2023, prompting an FDA public health alert.

The recent wave of rejections and scrutiny underscores the importance of stringent quality control measures in the spice industry, both for domestic and international markets. As investigations continue, consumers and regulatory authorities alike are closely monitoring the situation to ensure the safety and integrity of Indian spices on the global stage.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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