India’s spice industry is at a critical juncture after the recent contamination cases. PFI seeks experts’ insights on how to restore confidence, enhance regulatory measures, and prevent future contamination, thereby safeguarding teh industry’s reputation.

Key Highlights:

  • Recent Contamination Scandals: The article discusses recent high-profile contamination scandals involving major Indian spice brands like Everest and MDH, highlighting teh discovery of carcinogenic ethylene oxide in their spice powders.
  • Global Impact: The contamination incidents have led to bans in countries like Hong Kong and the Maldives, product recalls in Singapore, and potential restrictions in Australia and the US, indicating the global repercussions of the issue.
  • Response from Regulatory Bodies: It covers the response from regulatory bodies like the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Spices Board, including measures taken to address the contamination and prevent future incidents.
  • Controversial Regulatory Changes: The article discusses controversial regulatory changes, such as the raising of maximum residue limits (MRL) for certain pesticides, sparking debate over potential implications for public health.

INDIA’s spice industry, renowned globally, is currently under intense scrutiny due to recent high-profile contamination scandals involving major brands like Everest and MDH. The discovery of carcinogenic ethylene oxide in thier spice powders has led to bans in Hong Kong and the Maldives, product recalls in Singapore, and potential restrictions in Australia and the US. Despite the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) stringent regulations, thes incidents have raised concerns about the effectiveness of food safety measures. Experts in the country provide their insights on how the sector can recover and prevent future scandals.

The Ethylene Oxide Contamination Scandal

Carcinogenic ethylene oxide, a pesticide, was detected in spice powders from prominent Indian brands Everest and MDH, igniting a firestorm of criticism and regulatory action. This revelation prompted bans in Hong Kong and the Maldives and product recalls in Singapore, with other countries, including Australia and the US, contemplating similar measures. Despite the FSSAI’s emphasis on its rigorous regulations, thes incidents have cast doubt on India’s commitment to food safety.

Raising Maximum Residue Limits: A Controversial Move

In response to the Hong Kong ban, the FSSAI raised the maximum residue limits (MRL) for certain pesticides from 0.01mg/kg to 0.1mg/kg, sparking controversy and confusion. While this increase applies only to pesticides not registered with Indian authorities and adheres to international Codex standards, it has been criticized as potentially compromising public health.

Ashwin Bhadri, a tech entrepreneur, sees this move as a compromise between legislative obligations and practical factors, but he also recognizes teh serious public health problems it poses. Former FSSAI director Pradip Chakraborty stresses that the enhanced MRL only applies to exported food goods, highlighting that domestic and imported products are still under FSSAI control. However, he believes the statement should have come from an export regulatory body, such as the Spices Board of India.

Accountability for Food Safety Lapses

Chakraborty asserts that manufacturers must take responsibility for the contamination, noting that while FSSAI  issues licenses, exports are handled by the Spices Board of India and the Export Inspection Council. He emphasizes the need for checks to ensure exported products sold domestically do not contain ethylene oxide.

Former FDA commissioner Mahesh Zagade criticizes this compartmentalized accountability, arguing for a more integrated approach where both regulators and manufacturers are held accountable. He stresses the need for proactive measures and stringent enforcement of regulations to prevent such incidents.

Comprehensive Approach to Food Safety

Experts agree that preventing contamination requires a multifaceted approach. Ashwin Bhadri, highlights the importance of good manufacturing practices (GMP), proper storage conditions, regular quality checks, and stakeholder education. Stricter regulations, robust monitoring, and regular audits are essential for ensuring food safety.

Chakraborty adds that FSSAI guidelines mandate regular site visits and audits by food safety officers. He acknowledges the need for a proactive rather than reactive approach, emphasizing that early intervention could have prevented these issues.

Several Steps Taken to Prevent EtO Contamination

India has taken numerous steps to prevent the contamination of spices exported from the country with EtO (ethylene oxide), a carcinogenic chemical, according to a top government official. The measures were taken in response to reports of product recalls from two Indian spice brands in Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The Spices Board has taken steps to ensure the safety and quality of Indian spice exports to these regions,” Additional Secretary in the Commerce Ministry Amardeep Singh Bhatia told reporters here.

The board has made it mandatory to test such consignments destined to these two countries. A techno-scientific committee has also conducted a root cause analysis, inspected processing facilities, and collected samples for testing in accredited labs.

“In response to the committee’s recommendations, mandatory sampling and testing for EtO residues has been adopted for all spice shipmments to Singapore and Hong Kong starting May 7, 2024,” he said, adding that guidelines for EtO treatment have also been reiterated to all exporters.

He added that India has also taken up with the CODEX committee for setting up limits for EtO usage as different countries has different limits.

Also, there is no standard for EtO testing. India has proposed for that. In food products, there are a certain degree of failure of samples that happen and India’s sample failure is less than 1 per cent.

The Spices Board has come out with comprehensive guidelines for exporters to prevent ethylene oxide contamination in the products shipped from India amid quality concerns being flagged by certain countries on these goods.


India’s spice industry faces significant challenges in restoring its reputation and ensuring food safety. The recent contamination scandals have put a spotlight on the vulnerabilities within India’s spice industry, emphasizing the need for stringent food safety measures and accountability.

While the FSSAI and the Spices Board have taken steps to address and prevent ethylene oxide contamination, it is clear that a more proactive and integrated approach is essential. Addressing these issues requires a collaborative effort between regulatory bodies, manufacturers, and stakeholders. Implementing good manufacturing practices, regular quality checks, and stricter regulations are crucial to restoring consumer confidence and ensuring the global reputation of Indian spices. Moving forward, collaborative efforts between regulators and manufacturers, along with enhanced monitoring and enforcement, will be key to safeguarding the integrity of India’s spice exports.

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