Carcinogenic spices, more than 500 products at risk in Europe: India opens an investigation

The alarm goes off for some Indian spices that they might contain carcinogenic substancesaccording to what the Indian government body Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is investigating.

This investigation was born after the announcement of four popular spice blends produced by two local companies, Mdh and Everestin Hong Kong and Singapore, due to the suspected presence of a potentially carcinogenic pesticide, theethylene oxide (EtO). At the same time, the US Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation into all products of these two companies. In Europe, in the period between September 2020 and April 2024, approximately 527 foods containing carcinogenic substances.

The products involved

Mdh and Everest are among the leading spice companies in India and globally. Hong Kong's food regulator has recalled three Mdh spice products, the Economic Times of India reported. Madras Curry Powder, Sambhar Masala and Curry Powder. Singapore, however, has removed the Fish Curry Masalaa mix of curry and spices for fish dishes produced by Everest.

This is not the first episode in which the two companies have had problems with their products: as the Economic Times always reports, in 2022 the US customs authorities denied entry to approximately 15% of Mdh shipments, while in 2023 this figure is increased to 31%. In 2023, the FDA recalled some Everest Food products due to a positive test for salmonella.

What is ethylene oxide used for

Ethylene oxide is a gas used for industrial purposes, including the sterilization process of surgical instruments. However, it is also used in some countries for production of certain foods such as spices, dried herbs, dried vegetables, sesame seeds and nuts. And its use is widely used in India, including in the agricultural sector.

According to the EPA, the US Environmental Protection Agency, EtO is considered carcinogenic to humans. Scientific evidence indicates that constant exposure to this gas over a long period of time increases the risk of developing blood cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, myeloma and lymphocytic leukemia. Furthermore, it has been proven that Prolonged exposure to EtO increases the risk of breast cancer in women. The EPA warns that brief exposures to large amounts of EtO can cause various symptoms, including headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and respiratory irritation, such as cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. In some cases, vomiting and other gastrointestinal disorders may also occur.

In Europe, the use of ethylene oxide in the food sector is strictly prohibited. After the recent problems encountered with Mdh and Everest, the European Union announced that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) identified carcinogenic chemicals in 527 Indian food products in the period between September 2020 and April 2024. As reported by The Economic Times, of these 527 articles reported525 were food products and 2 were feed. Among them, 332 items indicated India as the sole country of origin, while the rest also had other areas indicated on the label.