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NZ Food Safety Agency Monitoring Indian Spice Mix Recalls

A shopkeeper holds a packet of Everest's Fish Curry Masala at a department store in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir, India, on 23 April, 2024. Photo: Nasir Kachroo / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP

New Zealand Food Safety is monitoring overseas recalls of Indian packaged spice products manufactured by MDH and Everest due to concerns over a cancer-causing pesticide.

Hong Kong suspended the sale of four spice packages manufactured by MDH and Everest on 5 April due to concerns over ethylene oxide, according to the BBC.

Two weeks later, Singapore recalled a packaged spice product for fish curry manufactured by Everest, the BBC said.

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The US Food and Drug Administration was monitoring the recalls as well, the BBC said.

"We are aware of the issue," said Vincent Arbuckle, deputy director-general of New Zealand Food Safety, a government body in the Ministry of Primary Industries.

"As MDH and Everest spices are also available in New Zealand, we are looking into it."

Ethylene oxide is a chemical used in fumigating spices that is known to cause cancer in humans.

Its use in food sterilisation has been phased out in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and other countries.

"Although some countries still use ethylene oxide, a 2001 study in New Zealand found the residues of ethylene oxide in spices did not represent a significant human health risk because of the low concentrations," Arbuckle said.

In response to the recalls, India's Spices Board - the country's regulator for spice exports - sought more information on the exports in Hong Kong and Singapore.

"As a proactive measure to address the concerns regarding ethylene oxide (ETO) contamination in spice products, Spices Board, in consultation with the spice industry, has decided to commence mandatory ETO testing in spice consignments exported for Singapore and Hong Kong," the regulator said in a statement.

"The maximum residue limit (MRL) for ETO in spices as per Singapore Food Agency [regulations] is 50 ppm, whereas Hong Kong has zero tolerance," the statement said.

"All spice consignments, including ready-to-eat products destined to Singapore and Hong Kong, shall be accompanied with cleared analytical report for ETO issued by Spices Board."

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