Hong Kong, Singapore food regulators find cancer-causing chemicals in Everest, MDH spices

NEW DELHI - Famous Indian spices are in the international spotlight for the wrong reasons. Hong Kong’s food regulatory authority has found four products of popular Indian brands MDH and Everest with carcinogenic ingredients.

Following this, Singapore has recalled Everest fish curry masala imported from India, citing the presence of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing agent which raises the risk of breast cancer and lymphoma.

The Centre for Food Safety, Hong Kong’s food and environmental regulatory body, said it collected samples of four products under its routine food surveillance programme and found the presence of pesticide ethylene oxide, which is unsuitable for human consumption.

The three MDH products are –curry powder (spice blend for Madras curry), mixed masala powder, and sambhar masala. The fourth product is Everest Fish Curry Masala.

In its April 5 announcement, it said that they had informed the vendors concerned of the irregularities and instructed them to stop the sale and remove from shelves the affected products.

It said the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified ethylene oxide as a Group 1 carcinogen. According to the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM), food for human consumption containing pesticide residue may only be sold if consumption of the food is not dangerous or prejudicial to health.

According to the CFS's instructions, the distributors/importers Sp Muthiah & Sons Pte. Ltd. Has been asked to initiate recalls on the affected products.

Following Hong Kong’s food regulator’s identification of pesticide in these spices, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said they had instructed the importer to recall the affected products comprehensively.

It further said that ethylene oxide is a pesticide that is not authorised for use in food. “It can be used to fumigate agricultural products to prevent microbial contamination.”

It further said that 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 also added that consumers who have purchased the implicated products are advised not to consume them.

“Those who have consumed the implicated products and have concerns about their health should seek medical advice.” It is not the first time the two Indian companies were asked to withdraw their products from the overseas markets.

In June last year, the US Food and Drugs Authority had asked Everest Food Products to recall its two products, sambhar masala, garam masala, and maggi masala that had tested positive for Salmonella. These bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses such as diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

In September 2019, at least three lots of MDHs sambar masala were withdrawn from the US after the FDA tested them and found them to be positive for salmonella.

Kerala-based liverdoctor, Dr Cyriac Abby Philips, who is popularly known as LiverDoc in X,formerly Twitter, said Ethylene oxide has been found to be associated with cancers such as lymphoma in males and breast cancer in females.

“What is Indian food regulator doing? If this is the morbid scene with international exports, what are we exposed to here? India has no value for public health and seems like government and most people are content with distractive politics and religion. We need to start an era of Citizen Science in India, to make those responsible,also accountable,” he posted.

Nature Khabar