Food Safety Authority Introduces New Carcinogen Detection Method Amid Controversy Over Indian Spices

The sales ban on certain Indian spices in Hong Kong and Singapore has led the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to develop a new method for detecting Ethylene Oxide in spices, according to top official sources. Ethylene Oxide, a chemical commonly used as a disinfectant in spices, is known to be carcinogenic. Hong Kong and Singapore identified its presence and subsequently banned several products from major Indian spice brands such as MDH and Everest.

This new detection method, reportedly more accurate and validated by the ICAR-National Research Centre for Grapes—FSSAI’s national reference laboratory—will be employed to test Ethylene Oxide levels in imported products, exports, and domestically produced spices. The method is also capable of detecting Ethylene Oxide in packaged items. In response to the bans, over 1,500 samples have been collected from markets and spice factories for laboratory testing.

What Is Ethylene Oxide

At the center of the ban on Indian spices in Hong Kong and Singapore is Ethylene Oxide, a chemical used as a disinfectant for spices, which is known to have carcinogenic properties. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Ethylene Oxide is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, indicating there is sufficient evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans.

In a press note announcing its decision to ban certain Indian spices, Singapore acknowledged that “Ethylene Oxide is allowed to be used in the sterilization of spices,” but emphasized that “exposure to this substance should be minimized as much as possible.” The statement further noted that while there is no immediate risk from consuming food contaminated with low levels of Ethylene Oxide, long-term exposure may lead to health issues. Additionally, it stated that Ethylene Oxide is not authorized for use in food in Singapore.

How India Has Responded

The Centre has asserted that India enforces some of the most stringent norms for minimizing pesticide residues in food items. “Some media reports claim that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) allows 10 times more pesticide residue in herbs and spices. These reports are false and malicious,” stated the Health Ministry earlier this month, emphasizing that India maintains some of the strictest Maximum Residue Limits in the world.

In response to the bans in Hong Kong and Singapore, the FSSAI has collected samples for testing. The Spices Board has issued detailed guidelines for exporters to prevent Ethylene Oxide contamination in products shipped from India. These guidelines instruct exporters to avoid using Ethylene Oxide as a sterilizing agent and ensure that transporters, warehouses, and packaging material suppliers do not use this chemical at any stage.

MDH has denied the allegations of using Ethylene Oxide. “We reassure our buyers and consumers that we do not use Ethylene Oxide at any stage of storing, processing, or packing our spices,” the company stated amid reports of the ban last month. MDH also noted that it had not received any communication from authorities in Singapore or Hong Kong. Similarly, Everest denied that its products have been banned in Singapore and Hong Kong, clarifying that only one of its 60 products sold in Singapore was under examination.

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