The Spices Board has come up with detailed guidelines for exporters on preventing Ethylene Oxide (ETO) contamination in spices after Singapore and Hong Kong recalled some packaged spice products exported from India while the US and Australia are also examining the matter.

The guidelines advise exporters against using ETO as a sterilising agent to reduce the microbial contamination in spices consignments and suggests alternatives such as steam sterilisation and irradiation (not applicable to organic products under NPOP).

Residue limits

The Spices Board has also provided the Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) for ETO permitted in major markets, including the EU, the UK, the US, Singapore, Switzerland and Turkey in the guidelines. CODEX–the international standard setting body under WHO and FAO–has not fixed any MRLs for spices.

“The Spices Board has received reports from Indian Missions abroad regarding the recall/rejection of spices exported from India by a few importing countries via Singapore, Hong Kong, due to the presence of ETO beyond the permissible limit. The Board, after detailed discussions with the Indian spice industry, has prepared a set of guidelines on preventing ETO contamination in spices exported from India,”  the circular issued to all export organisations on Tuesday points out.

Quality concerns could threaten over half of India’s spice exports, per an analysis done by research body Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI). “Reports from the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and now Malé have raised questions about the quality of spices supplied by leading Indian firms MDH and Everest spices. With India having exported spices valued at approximately $692.5 million to these countries in the fiscal year 2024, the stakes are high,” said Ajay Srivastava, Co-founder, GTRI.

Responding to businessline’semailed query, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) stated, “FSANZ is working with our international counterparts to understand the issue with federal, state and territory food enforcement agencies to determine if further action is required in Australia (e.g. a food recall).” At this stage, there have been no recalls issued in Australia,” it added.

India exported spices worth $3.95 billion in 2022-23, per the Spices Board.

The impact

If China and the EU, the two major markets for Indian spices, also adopt stricter scrutiny, the total potential loss to India’s spice exports would be 58.8 per cent, the GTRI report estimated.

The guidelines also proposed measures to prevent microbiological cross-contamination, appropriate packaging, careful transportation to ensure protection from any of the external adverse environmental factors and careful handling of samples for testing.