Indian Spices Face Global Scrutiny Over Safety Concerns

Reported by Nadar Nihal Kaur


Indian spices, famous for adding a burst of flavor to dishes worldwide, are now under the spotlight for health and safety reasons. Recently, several countries have raised concerns about the presence of ethylene oxide, a chemical used in treating these spices.


Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a sterilizing agent commonly used to eliminate harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli from spices, ensuring they are safe to consume. According to Ashwin Nayak, Chairman of the Federation of Indian Spice Stakeholders (FISS), using EtO helps control these dangerous microbes, making spices safer for consumption. He clarified that EtO is not a pesticide but a sterilizer, also widely used in medical settings to sterilize equipment.


However, EtO is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning it can increase the risk of cancer, including breast cancer. This has led to a significant concern among consumers and regulatory bodies.


The issue gained international attention when the Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong found EtO in three popular Indian spice brands—MDH’s Madras Curry Powder, Sambhar Masala Powder, Curry Powder, and Everest Group’s Fish Curry Masala. Following this discovery, Singaporean authorities also recalled these products, prompting Nepal to ban the import of these Indian spice brands.


Nayak emphasized that the American Spice Association has approved EtO use in the United States, where it is used to treat a significant portion of spices. He urged the Indian Spice Board to consider international standards for EtO levels to restore confidence in Indian spices globally.


The controversy has impacted India’s reputation as a leading spice producer. FISS believes it’s crucial to educate the public on the safe and controlled use of EtO in spice processing to alleviate fears and misunderstandings.


In summary, while EtO helps ensure spices are free from harmful bacteria, its classification as a carcinogen has sparked a global debate. Moving forward, clearer regulations and better communication about EtO’s use and safety could help restore trust in the beloved Indian spices.

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