Another setback for MDH as US customs rejects one-third of exports over Salmonella concerns

Nearly 72 percent of Indians who use MDH and Everest masalas are concerned after news of cancer-causing chemicals in some of their products.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Apr 30, 2024 | 7:00 AMUpdatedApr 30, 2024 | 7:00 AM

MDH and Everest products

Even while the MDH controversy over its three masala powder products being recalled in several countries continues, the products are again in the news. This time, reports have surfaced that US customs have rejected nearly a third of the spice shipments exported by MDH over the past six months due to Salmonella contamination.

It may be noted that South First was the first to report that three MDH spice powders were flagged and recalled by the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety (CFS).

The Indian Express recently revealed that US customs authorities refused 31 percent of all spice-related shipments from Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH) Pvt Ltd over the last six months due to concerns over salmonella contamination.

“US customs authorities refused 31 percent of all spice-related shipments exported by Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH) pvt Ltd over salmonella contamination in the last six months,” it said.

The report also stated that the refusal rate since October 2023 has notably doubled from the 15 per cent recorded in previous years.

A Reuters report, citing an FDA spokesperson, mentioned that both MDH and Everest are under scrutiny by the US FDA. According to the report, the FDA is currently gathering more information regarding these allegations.

Also Read: MDH rejects reports of pesticide presence in its products

Understanding Salmonella Contamination

Salmonella contamination, which can result from unsanitary conditions, is a bacterial infection that affects the intestinal tract. Experts note that this contamination can occur at any stage from harvesting to processing and packaging.

Notably, the FDA reportedly conducted a physical inspection of MDH’s manufacturing facilities in January 2022, during which they observed inadequate sanitary facilities and accommodations.

The agency also noted that the equipment and utensils were not designed to facilitate adequate cleaning or maintenance, heightening the risk of contamination, reported Indian Express.

Also Read: Hong Kong food regulators find cancer-causing ingredients in 4 MDH, Everest products

Concerns, public outcry

Citizens worry that despite the international concerns, the FSSAI has not yet issued a statement.

It has only stated that the use of ethylene oxide in food products is not allowed in India and that it is conducting further investigations on Indian food products to determine if there is a presence of ETO.

Meanwhile, MDH has dismissed these claims as part of a conspiracy, maintaining that their products are safe and that no concerns have been communicated to them by other food regulators. Public outcry over the issue has been significant.

On the social media platform X, renowned hepatologist Dr Cyriac Abby Philip aka The Liver Dr raised questions about the truth behind these allegations and criticised the acceptance of mediocrity in consumer products in India.

He highlighted independent testing by a citizen, which found ethylene oxide levels in Everest Fish Masala exceeding EU limits by over 70 times, confirming its presence in locally sold products.

He said, “Who is lying?” and demanded that the citizens of India “DESERVE so much better!”. He argued that “We have been groomed to get comfortable with, and get adjusted to mediocrity and lives.”

Dr Abby Philip listed the countries that have raised red flags on these products and also cited how Indian food regulars only choose to remain silent on the issue.

He also spoke about how independent testing of a domestically available Everest Fish Masala by a citizen, paying his own money, revealed the presence of ethylene oxide exceeding the upper limit by more than 70 times in comparison to EU countries. It was also proved that ethylene oxide was present in the same products sold in local shops in India.

Related: FSSAI checks spice quality in India after Hong Kong flagged 4 MDH, Everest products with carcinogen

Global Scrutiny

Global scrutiny of MDH’s three products has led residents in other countries to question the safety of these masalas.

Vijay Sapps (@VJsapps) pointed out on X, the widespread sale of these products in Canada despite international bans, questioning Canada’s stance on the issue.

“EU, USA, Singapore, Hongkong, the list of countries banning it going long but still widely sold across Canada,” he wrote, sharing a picture of these products.

“This is Fortinos selling MDH, not some Indian store. These two brands are sold widely across Canada. What is Canada’s position on it,” Vijay Sapps posted tagging the Health Department of the Government of Canada.

Also Read: Are you eating cancer-causing food products every day? EU has a list

Decline in consumer trust 

A survey by @LocalCircles revealed that 72 percent of MDH and Everest consumers are worried about carcinogens in their spices.

In Karnataka alone, 51 per cent of them have been consuming the MDH and Everest brands and they all claimed being concerned after hearing the news of carcinogens in four of the products.

Interestingly, across the country, 73 percent of consumers said that they had ‘no or low confidence’ in Indian food regulators regarding their efforts in terms of effective due diligence for licensing, renewal, audit and corrective actions to ensure food safety for consumers.

Only three percent of people said they were highly confident in the FSSAIs measures.

Even in Karnataka 27 percent of them said they had “no confidence at all” about the efforts and measures taken by FSSAI to check the safety of food products and 36 percent of them said they had “low confidence”.

Residents across India, including Archana Sundaresh, a resident of Nagarbhavi and Dhriti Nagaiah from Bengaluru, have expressed their concerns about the safety of commonly consumed products, from spices to baby food.

With ongoing reports of contamination in everyday food items, consumer anxiety continues to escalate, raising serious questions about food safety standards and regulatory oversight in the country.

Speaking to South First Archana Sundaresh said, “With so much of news around these products that we regularly use in our kitchen, I wonder what is safe to eat?”

“From spices we use to rice sold in the market, cerelace being fed for babies, our ‘so normal healthy’ evening drink like Bournvita, Horlicks everything being called a health concern, now what do we actually eat or drink? There were reports of vegetables we eat having pesticide and other heavy metals in it. I am seriously panicking over everything I eat,” Nagaiah told South First.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)