ethylene oxide in Spices | Envirocare Labs

Ethylene Oxide Residues in Spices: What You Need to Know

Ethylene Oxide in Spices: Understanding the Recent Concerns

In recent months, concerns have arisen internationally due to the frequent detection of ethylene oxide (EO) in spices. This has led Indian regulators, specifically the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), to initiate nationwide quality checks to assess the status of Ethylene Oxide residues in spices available in the Indian market.

What is Ethylene Oxide?

Ethylene oxide, or EO, is a colourless, flammable, highly reactive gas with a characteristic ethereal odour. It is used industrially as a fumigant to control pests and prevent microbial contaminants such as Salmonella and E. coli. EO can also sterilize food products and food-contact surfaces without using high-temperature processes that may damage certain products such as herbs, spices, and seeds.

However, ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen, classified as a Group 1 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Chronic exposure to EO is associated with an increased risk of cancer and irritation of the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin and may lead to other severe health problems.

Ethylene Oxide (EO) in Food Products

Ethylene Oxide (EO) in Food Products, particularly spices, has raised significant concern in international markets. For instance, Hong Kong recently prohibited selling leading Indian spice brands due to the detection of carcinogenic pesticide ethylene oxide. Singapore also recalled certain Indian masala brands for similar reasons.

EO leaves residue wherever it is used, whether for sterilizing food products, pharmaceuticals, or fumigation. Contamination remains a concern while there are methods to reduce residues, such as nitrogen washes and extended aeration.

Regulatory Responses and Actions

In response to these concerns, international agencies such as the European Union have set strict regulations and maximum residue limits for EO products. The EU has proposed maximum residue limits ranging from 0.02 to 0.1 mg/kg for EO and its primary metabolite, 2-chloroethanol, in different food and agricultural commodities.

In India, the FSSAI has commissioned quality checks on spices to ensure compliance with Indian chemical residue standards. This includes assessing the levels of ethylene oxide in spices sold in the Indian market and taking appropriate actions.

Envirocare Labs: Right Testing Partner

Envirocare Labs, an industry leader, is committed to promoting safe and responsible practices in the food industry. IOPEPC approves us and is accredited as per ISO/IEC 17025:2017.

We perform ETO Testing and 2-chloroethane in food products with a Limit of Quantification (LOQ) of 0.01 mg/kg using the GC-MS/MS testing method.

Our team conducts regular testing and inspection to ensure food products meet safety and quality standards. By staying informed and proactive, we can work together to address these challenges and ensure the safety of consumers.


No, Ethylene oxide is not registered as a pesticide in India under the provisions of the Insecticide Act 1968 and its rules.

Ethylene oxide is not universally banned, but several countries and regions have restrictions on its use, particularly in food. Here’s a breakdown:

European Union (EU): The EU has a complete ban on ethylene oxide as a pesticide and fumigant since 1991. It’s permitted for sterilization purposes in specific situations, but not for food contact surfaces.

Some Asian Countries: While not a complete ban, countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have imposed restrictions on food imports due to ethylene oxide contamination

ETO is not registered under CIB / RC and is not included in the list of pesticides for which MRLs are fixed by FSSAI. Although there are a few spices for which MRLs for a few pesticides are fixed, ETO is not included in it.

Considering the importance of this issue, FSSAI issued an order dated 8th April 2024 which states in case of pesticides registered with CIB and RC and MRLs are specified for food commodities other than spices and herbs, then MRLs specified by CODEX will be applicable. If MRLs for such pesticides are not specified by CODEX, default MRL of 0.1 mg/Kg will apply.

In case of pesticides not registered with CIB/RC, default MRL of 0.1 mg/Kg will be applicable. For ex. ETO is not registered under CIB/ RC and CODEX, therefore a default MRL of 0.1 is applicable.

In USA, there are 69 commodities for which ETO limit of 7 mg/Kg has been fixed.

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