Extra control measures in place for Indian spices, says UK watchdog

Last month, Singapore and Hong Kong halted sales of some spices from MDH and Everest over concerns about use of ETO, linked to some cancers

Representative image
Representative image


The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) clarified on Thursday that it has had extra control measures for pesticide residues in spices from India since earlier this year.

Dismissing reports of any additional steps taken recently, the country's food watchdog noted that it has an early warning system (EWS) in place for maximum residue levels of ethylene oxide (ETO) — a food contaminant not allowed in the UK — in various spices from India since early last year.

It comes amid reports of concerns over ETO levels in some Indian spices that led to Hong Kong and Singapore banning certain Indian spice products.

“In light of concerns, earlier this year we applied extra control measures for pesticide residues in spices from India which include ethylene oxide,” said Natasha Smith, deputy director of food policy at the FSA.

“The use of ethylene oxide is not allowed here (in the UK), and maximum levels (or maximum residue levels) are in place for herbs and spices. If there is any unsafe food or food on the market, the FSA will take rapid action to ensure consumers are protected,” she said.

Ethylene oxide is typically used overseas to control the presence of pathogens such as salmonella, however the use of ETO is not permitted in the UK, with maximum residue levels in place for commodities including herbs and spices.

The FSA said it had already been issuing early warning alerts for ETO in various spices from India since before January 2023. This is via its monthly imports EWS notifications for enforcement officers at UK ports and local authorities. This encourages enforcement officers to carry out surveillance sampling for ETO, which could then be used to justify amending UK official controls legislation, the watchdog notes.

Food businesses are required to ensure food is both safe and compliant so if commodities are found to be above the maximum residue levels, food businesses must assess and take action, the FSA said.

“We review the controls that we apply to both imported High-Risk Food and Feed of Non-Animal Origin and Food not of animal origin on a regular basis to ensure consumers continue to have access to safe imported food and feed,” it added.

India is among the world’s leading spice producers, exporting over 200 spices and value-added products to some 180 countries worth USD 4 billion in 2021-22, according to the Spices Board of India.

Last month, Singapore and Hong Kong halted sales of some spices produced by MDH and Everest over suspected elevated levels of ETO, linked with some cancers.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has since initiated steps to examine the quality of powdered spices from various brands in the country.

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