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Spices Board Issues Guidelines to Mitigate Ethylene Oxide Contamination

Following the recall of some packaged spice products exported from India by Singapore and Hong Kong for exceeding the permissible limit of Ethylene Oxide (ETO), the Spices Board has issued guidelines for exporters to prevent ETO contamination in spices.

The Guidelines for Preventing Ethylene Oxide (ETO) Contamination in Spice Exports provide vital information on ETO, a gas used as a fumigant, disinfectant, and insecticide. The document stresses the importance of monitoring ETO levels in foods to ensure food safety, as Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for ETO vary across countries and CODEX has not established fixed MRLs for spices. Exporters are urged not to use ETO as a sterilising agent and are encouraged to test raw materials, finished goods, and processing aids for ETO contamination. If ETO levels surpass permissible limits, exporters must refrain from exporting the products and carry out a root cause study to prevent further issues in the future.

A list of MRLs of ETO for spices & herbs specified in the Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/868 and country-wise MRLs of ETO have also been shared as part of the guidelines.

Preventive measures proposed include identifying ETO as a hazard, incorporating critical control points for ETO in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocols, and utilising non-porous packaging to protect spices from moisture, contamination, and pests. Transportation precautions include safeguarding against external environmental conditions, ensuring clean and hygienic transportation vehicles, and avoiding ETO-treated pallets. Furthermore, efforts to prevent microbiological cross-contamination, reject contaminated materials, and maintain separate storage spaces for ETO-treated and non-treated materials are highlighted.

Exporters are advised to adopt alternative sterilisation methods, such as steam sterilisation or irradiation, and to adhere to guidelines for minimising microbial contamination in spices. Overall, the guidelines are intended to equip exporters with the knowledge and practices necessary to prevent ETO contamination and ensure the safety and quality of spice exports.

Notably, a similar set of guidelines was issued in 2021, when the spice board received RASFF alerts from the European Union (EU) for the presence of ETO in spice exported to the EU. Special preventive measures, including separate processing, storage and transportation as well as the demarcation of sterilization unit were outlined for spices intended for export to the EU.