Indian authorities launch spices probe after Hong Kong, Singapore pull products from shelves over cancer-causing pesticide

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had also started collecting samples of the spices in powder form from all brands across the country, including the two companies, to check if they met relevant standards, an agency insider told Indian news outlet PTI.

In early April, Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety ordered four pre-packaged spice mix products from India to be recalled after it found the pesticide ethylene oxide in samples during regular surveillance.

The products were Everest’s fish curry masala and MDH’s Madras curry powder, Sambhar masala mixed masala powder and curry powder mixed masala powder.

The centre asked vendors, distributors and importers to recall the affected products and urged the public not to consume them.

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified ethylene oxide as a Group 1 carcinogen, a substance known to cause the disease.

In Hong Kong, the sale of food containing pesticide residue is banned, with offenders facing a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and six months’ imprisonment upon conviction.

Following Hong Kong’s move, the Singapore Food Agency on April 18 ordered the importer there to recall the Everest product as well. Under the city state’s regulations, the substance is not authorised for use in food but is allowed for the sterilisation of spices.

“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,” it said.

The agency advised the public against consuming the product and those who had concerns to seek medical advice.

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Professor Terence Lau Lok-ting, chairman of Hong Kong’s Food Safety Consortium, said ethylene oxide, which is in the form of a gas, was commonly used for sterilisation in food production and processing.

“The substance was detected in ice cream, nuts and spices before, but it should have been eliminated before packaging, instead of being left on food,” he said.

“It’s possible the manufacturers did not comply with the relevant standards of disinfection.”

Lau said no official mechanism was in place for different jurisdictions to report irregularities in real-time, but the International Food Safety Authorities Network (Infosan) was set up to make the exchange of information easier on such events.

He said that although there were often delays in reporting through Infosan, countries could learn about incidents from the media and follow up by recalling products.

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