In order to test spices for ethylene oxide (ETO) residue, the Food and Drugs Control Administration in Gujarat and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have collected over 300 samples from various entities, including those from 13 export-oriented units of Gujarat.

The move comes after Singapore and Hong Kong suspended the sale of popular brands MDH and Everest following the detection of “elevated levels” of ETO, a chemical associated with long-term cancer risks. Thereafter, India’s regulatory body FSSAI ordered a comprehensive testing of spices from all brands across the country.

“FSSAI had asked all the States to collect samples and inspect the manufacturing sites. There are around 1,000 licenses given to food and condiments units in Gujarat. Till now we have collected more than 300 samples of spices,” H G Koshia, Commissioner, FDCA Gujarat told businessline

2 labs to test

“The mandate is to test spices in powdered form including chillies, turmeric, cumin and others. This includes spice blends. We have two laboratories that can test samples for ETO residue,” he said. Apart from FDCA, officials of FSSAI have also collected samples from 13 export-oriented units in Gujarat. 

Officials pointed out that ETO — a colourless gas — has been used as a “sterilising agent” for over 30 years. “This is done to minimise the presence of microbial elements in spices and food products including moulds and pathogens like salmonella, E.coli, among others. Apart from spices, ETO is also being used for sterilizing heat-sensitive medical disposables such as syringes and catheters,” Koshia said.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS) — a body of spice traders, processors, manufacturers, exporters and farmers — on Friday said while India has no set regulations or limits with regard to ETO residue in spices, European Union and United Kingdom permits only 0.1 mg per kg of ETO in spices. This tolerance level is 7 mg per kg in countries like the US and Canada, while it is 50 mg for Singapore.

“For exporting spices to the EU and UK, most exporters prefer steam sterilization. However, this process is about 4-5 times more expensive than ETO sterilization. Moreover, the machinery needed for steam sterilization is costly and needs to be imported from Europe,” said Ashvin Nayak, chairman of FISS and head of Kanaiya Exports Pvt Ltd.

Shipments may fall

The current controversy surrounding ETO residue in spices has started adversely affecting spice exports from India, say exporters. “Several countries including Nepal have halted our export consignments. If the government does not step in and resolve the issue, it could cause spices exports from India to fall by 40 per cent this financial year. We also want to appeal to the Spices Board of India to test samples from each shipment and aid the continuous flow of exports,” Nayak said.

India accounts for 60-70 per cent of the total spice exports. In the year 2021-22, over 15.31 lakh tonnes of spices were exported to various countries including China, USA, Canada, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, EU and others.