Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Over Ethylene Oxide Levels

Hong Kong and Singapore suspended sales of Indian spice mixes due to high levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer risk. India's food safety regulator has ordered nationwide testing and inspections of spice manufacturers in response.

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Rafia Tasleem
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Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Over Ethylene Oxide Levels

Indian Spice Exports Face Scrutiny Over Ethylene Oxide Levels

Hong Kong and Singapore have suspended sales of Indian spice mixes, including popular brands MDH and Everest, as they contain high levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer risk with long-term exposure. The move has prompted global scrutiny and testing of Indian spice products, with Australia and the United States gathering more information on the matter.

Why this matters: The recall of Indian spice mixes highlights the importance of ensuring food safety and quality in international trade, as contaminated products can have far-reaching consequences for public health. This incident may also impact India's reputation as a major spice exporter, potentially affecting the country's economy and trade relationships.

Last month, Hong Kong suspended sales of three MDH spice blends and an Everest mix for fish curry. Singapore followed suit, ordering a recall of the same Everest mix. Ethylene oxide is banned in India and is not permitted for use as a treatment for foods sold in Australia.

In response, India's food safety regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has ordered nationwide testing and inspections at all companies making spice mixes. The FSSAI will conduct "extensive inspections, sampling and testing at all the manufacturing units" for powdered spices, focusing on curry powders and mixed spice blends for both local and foreign sales.

Each product sampled will be analyzed for compliance with quality and safety parameters, including checks for any presence of ethylene oxide. Appropriate actions will be initiated if any non-compliance is found. Indian authorities have recently inspected the plants of MDH and Everest, but the companies did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment. They have previously stated that their products are safe for consumption.

This is not the first time Indian spice manufacturers have faced issues with contamination. In 2019, a few batches of an MDH product were recalled in the United States due to salmonella contamination. More recently, in 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a recall of two Everest spice mixes for the same contamination risk.

India is the world's largest exporter, consumer, and producer of spices, with a domestic market valued at Rs 87,102 crore ($10.44 billion) in 2022, according to Zion Market Research. The country exported spice products worth $4 billion during the 2022-23 fiscal year. Major Indian spice manufacturers include MDH, Everest, Madhusudan Masala, NHC Foods, Tata Consumer Products, and ITC.

As global scrutiny intensifies, Food Standards Australia New Zealand stated, "We are working with international counterparts to understand the issue and with federal, state, and territory food enforcement agencies to determine if further action is required in Australia." The U.S. FDA also confirmed that it is gathering additional information on the matter.

The suspension of sales and recalls of Indian spice mixes in Hong Kong and Singapore have raised concerns about the safety and quality of Indian spice exports. FSSAI's nationwide testing and inspections prompt the Indian spice industry to face the challenge of restoring consumer confidence and ensuring compliance with international safety standards. The outcome of these investigations will have significant implications for India's spice trade and its reputation in the global market.

Key Takeaways

  • Hong Kong and Singapore suspend sales of Indian spice mixes due to high levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer risk.
  • India's food safety regulator orders nationwide testing and inspections of spice manufacturers.
  • Australia and the US gather more information on the matter, considering further action.
  • This is not the first contamination issue for Indian spice manufacturers, with previous recalls in 2019 and 2023.
  • India's spice industry faces a challenge in restoring consumer confidence and ensuring compliance with international safety standards.