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

On 20 April, South First reported that Hong Kong food regulator Centre for Food Safety has identified that four products from spice brands MDH and Everest, contain pesticide ethylene oxide, which is classified as a Group-1 carcinogen by IARC.

BySumit Jha

Published Apr 22, 2024 | 9:28 PMUpdatedApr 22, 2024 | 9:28 PM

MDH Everest

Indian food-safety regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has started taking samples of powdered spices of all brands — including MDH and Everest — across the country following quality concerns flagged by Singapore and Hong Kong.

On 20 April, South First reported that Hong Kong’s food regulator Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has identified that four products from spice brands MDH and Everest contained the pesticide ethylene oxide, which is classified as a Group-1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

After the report was published, people on social media asked how national food regulators failed to detect such elements in food products in India.

“In view of the current development, the FSSAI has taken samples of spices of all brands, including MDH and Everest, from the market to check whether they meet the FSSAI norms,” a source told PTI.

The FSSAI does not regulate the quality of exported spices, they said.

Operating under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the FSSAI takes samples of spices regularly from the market to check the quality of products sold in the domestic market.

Meanwhile, the Spices Board of India is looking into the ban imposed by Hong Kong and Singapore on the sale of the four spices-mix products of MDH and Everest, which were allegedly found to contain the pesticide ethylene oxide beyond permissible limits.

“We are looking into the matter. We are at it,” Spices Board of India Director AB Rema Shree told PTI.

Also Read: IIT-Madras researchers patent use of Indian spices to treat cancer

‘Not to sell or buy the product’

The food regulator of Hong Kong found that three products of MDH — Madras Curry Powder (spice blend for Madras Curry), Sambhar Masala Mixed Masala Powder, and Curry Powder Mixed Masala Powder — and Everest Fish Curry Masala contained the pesticide ethylene oxide.

“The CFS of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department announced today that samples of several kinds of prepackaged spice mix products were found to contain a pesticide, ethylene oxide,” it said in a statement on 5 April.

“Members of the public should not consume the affected products. The trade should also stop using or selling the affected products immediately if they possess any of them,” it added.

“The CFS has informed the vendors concerned of the irregularities and instructed them to stop the sale and remove from shelves the affected products. According to the CFS’ instructions, the distributors/importers concerned have initiated recalls on the affected products,” it also said.

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified ethylene oxide as a Group-1 carcinogen. According to the pesticide residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM), food for human consumption containing pesticide residue may only be sold if consumption of the food is not dangerous or prejudicial to health. An offender is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months upon conviction,” continued the CFS.

It added in the statement that it would continue to follow up on incidents and take appropriate action.

Also Read: High levels of ethion in popular powdered spices sold in Kerala

Aftershocks in Singapore

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) also ordered the recall of Everest’s Fish Curry Masala 50g packets imported from India after it was found to contain more-than-permissible limits of ethylene oxide.

In a statement, it said that the CSF had issued a notification on the recall of Everest Fish Curry Masala from India due to the presence of ethylene oxide at levels exceeding permissible limits.

It added that as the implicated products were imported into Singapore, the SFA had directed the importer — SP Muthiah & Sons Pte Ltd — to recall the products. The recall is ongoing.

“Ethylene oxide is a pesticide that is not authorised for use in food. It can be used to fumigate agricultural products to prevent microbial contamination. Under Singapore’s Food Regulations, ethylene oxide is allowed to be used in the sterilisation of spices,” said the SFA.

Although there is no immediate risk to consumption of food contaminated with low levels of ethylene oxide, long-term exposure may lead to health issues.

“Therefore, exposure to this substance should be minimised as much as possible. Consumers who have purchased the implicated products are advised not to consume them. Those who have consumed the implicated products and have concerns about their health should seek medical advice. Consumers may contact their point of purchase for enquiries,” said the SFA.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)