Indian Spice Brands MDH and Everest face international bans and investigations

Indian Spice Band
Indian Spice Band

Many countries, including the US, UK, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, have recently banned some spice products from two prominent Indian spice brands—MDH and Everest—over ethylene oxide (ETO) contamination concerns.

These two spice brands are under scrutiny for alleged contamination in some of its products. Data analysis by Reuters revealed that an average of 14.5 percent of its US shipments were rejected due to bacterial presence. The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) clarified that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have deemed the consumption of spices treated with ethylene oxide (ETO) as safe. This statement followed actions by Hong Kong and Singapore against MDH and Everest spices.

US Spice Body Clarification

On Friday, ASTA addressed Spices Board of India Secretary Dr. KG Jagadeesha to clarify the use of ETO in spices exported to the US. ASTA highlighted that ETO is allowed in the US, and banning this treatment could lead to significant compliance issues with US food safety regulations.

Global Regulatory Actions

In New Zealand, the Food Safety Authority acknowledged the overseas recall and is investigating the contamination. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been issuing early warnings for ETO in Indian spices since January 2023 and has imposed extra control measures on all Indian spice imports. Hong Kong suspended the sales of three MDH spice blends and one Everest blend due to high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide. Similarly, Singapore ordered a recall of the Everest fish curry mix for containing unacceptable ETO levels.

EU Findings and Recommendations

A recent European Union report revealed concerning levels of ETO in various Indian food products, including organic foods. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported that out of 2,026 samples analyzed, 47 exceeded the maximum residue level (MRL) for ETO. The report recommended monitoring ETO residues more stringently and investigating the reasons for these findings.

Indian Spice Industry

India, the world's largest spice producer, faced significant scrutiny with the latest reports. The domestic market was valued at $10.44 billion in 2022, and exports were worth $4 billion in 2022-23. MDH, a family-run business over 100 years old, saw a notable percentage of its shipments to the US rejected due to salmonella contamination. Everest, although facing fewer rejections, has also been under scrutiny.

Ethylene Oxide and Public Health

Ethylene oxide is recognized as a human carcinogen. Dr. Pranav Honnavara Srinivasan from Sparsh Hospital Bengaluru explained that ETO is often used to sterilize spices but poses significant health risks. Chronic exposure can increase the risk of cancers, including lymphoid and breast cancer. Consuming contaminated food over long periods can lead to cumulative exposure, significantly raising cancer risks.

Regulatory Measures and Alternatives

Dr. Srinivasan emphasized the need for stringent monitoring by Indian authorities, regular testing of food products for ETO residues, and comprehensive training for producers and exporters on safe usage practices. Engaging with international food safety agencies could help reduce rejection rates of Indian exports and build global trust in Indian food products. He also suggested exploring safer chemical alternatives like ozone, hydrogen peroxide, or heat treatments and enhancing overall hygiene and storage conditions in production to reduce the need for chemical sterilants.

The bans and recalls of MDH and Everest spices highlight significant challenges in ensuring food safety in the global spice trade. Addressing these issues through stricter regulations, better practices, and safer alternatives will be crucial for the future of India's spice exports.



Over 45K subscribers