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Ethylene Oxide Contamination of Food Ingredients Results in E.U. Recalls


Ethylene oxide is widely used as a fumigant to destroy insect pests in agricultural commodities.  Recently, the E.U. conducted assays and determined that 87 out of 650 analyses of sesame seeds, spices, and dried vegetables, predominately supplied by India yielded violative levels of ethylene oxide.  Currently the E.U. has a zero tolerance for the compound with a detection limit of approximately 0.02 milligrams per kilogram (20 ppb).  There are differences in approach to recall among nations in the E.U. and there is no general consensus over permitted levels or the threshold of detection for the fumigant.


Notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence of harm associated with levels of 20 ppb, food activists groups including Food Watch and politicians affiliated to Green parties are requesting that the precautionary principle should be applied to ethylene oxide residues.  This would result in India and some other nations losing their markets in the E.U. since ethylene oxide fumigation is considered necessary to eliminate extensive insect infestation.