The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) has written to the Spices Board of India clarifying that ethylene oxide is approved for use on spices in the US under prescribed tolerance limits. Reacting to the recent criticism over use of ETO in spices, the industry body added that any move to prohibit “this critical treatment method” could result in “unintended implications” regarding compliance of Indian spices with US food safety regulations.

This comes at a time when some spice products were recalled by food safety regulators in Hong Kong and Singapore. This led Spices Board of India to issue guidelines advising exporters against using ETO as a sterilising agent in spices consignments suggesting alternatives. It has also provided the Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) for ETO permitted in major markets, including the EU, the UK, the US in the guidelines. ASTA represents over 200 companies that are involved in manufacturing and marketing of spices in the US.

Risk of pathogens

The industry body pointed out that the US imports more than 1,00,000 mt of spices from India, valued at over $360 million annually. “All of which needs to be treated with a validated kill step such as ETO (ethylene oxide), prior to being sold in the US market. Current US regulations permit the use of ETO treatment on imported spices and spice products as long as residues adhere to the prescribed tolerances. Moreover, without the use of ETO on spices, imported products are at a higher risk of the presence of pathogens and non-compliance with FDA food safety regulations,” the ASTA letter stated.

Stating that ETO is an approved antimicrobial fumigant in the U.S, ASTA also pointed out that its tolerance limit or Maximum Residue Levels is set at 7 ppm for herbs and spices. “Both, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have concluded that consumption of spices treated with ETO is safe. The US spice industry relies on ETO sterilisation as one of the primary methods to comply with the FDA regulations,” it added. ETO has been one one of the key methods used by the US spice importers to comply with these requirements.

“Spices that do not undergo a “validated kill step” prior to import to the US will be deemed “Not Ready-To-Eat” and are required to be labelled with a “Not Processed to Control Microbial Hazards” disclosure,” it added. 

ASTA stressed “prohibiting this critical treatment method has the potential to result in serious unintended implications regarding compliance of Indian spices with US food safety regulations.”