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FDA Launches Investigation on Pesticides in Spices After Hong Kong’s Crackdown on Indian Spice Manufacturers MDH and Everest

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on May 6, 2024

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation on pesticides in spices after Hong Kong halted sales of certain products by Indian spice manufacturers, MDH and Everest. This decision comes after the discovery that some of these products allegedly contain high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide.

Several International Food Agencies Suspend Sales of MDH and Everest Spice Blends

Earlier this month, Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety suspended sales of three MDH brand spice blends and one Everest fish curry spice mix.

The agency said, “Samples of several kinds of prepackaged spice mix products were found to contain a pesticide, ethylene oxide. Members of the public should not consume the affected products. The trade should also stop using or selling the affected products immediately if they possess any of them.”

Singapore followed suit, recalling the Everest spice as well. That agency indicated a similar reason, stating that it contained high levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer risk with long-term exposure and unfit for human consumption.

United States Investigates Pesticides in Spices

In response to international concern, The FDA has launched their own investigation into these products.

“The FDA is aware of the reports and is gathering additional information about the situation,” says an FDA spokesperson.

What does this investigation look like?

The details have not been released, but it will likely involve our own sample analysis. Indicated products would be screened for chemical contamination and held to allowable limits regulations, just as any other product sold in American is held to.

India Is Also Looking at the Products

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), India’s food regulator, is also looking into the quality standards of the two companies.

India is the country of origin for both MDH and Everest.

Affected Products

A United States recall has not yet been announced. However, it is a good idea to check your pantries for these products.

MDH brand products include:

  • Madras Curry Powder
  • Sambhar Masala Powder
  • Curry Powder

Everest brand products include:

  • Fish Curry Masala

These products are sold in Europe, Asian, and North America.

This is Not the First Time MDH Has Had a Quality Issue

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that MDH has had a quality issue for products sold in the United States.

In 2019, a recall was announced for a few of the firm’s products due to potential contamination with the harmful pathogen, Salmonella.  The product was tested by the FDA through a certified laboratory and samples were positive for Salmonella.

The recall was for different lots of MDH Sambar Masala.

No illnesses were reported in connection with that recall.

What is Ethylene Oxide?

Ethylene oxide is used in a variety of industrial processes. In smaller amounts, it is used as both a sterilizing agent and as a pesticide.

Ethylene oxide causes damage to DNA molecules, effectively killing anything living it is applied to. This makes it an effective sterilizing agent. This DNA destroying property is also why it a cancer-causing agent.

Common cancers associated with ethylene oxide exposure include lymphoma and leukemia. Stomach and breast cancers may also be associated with the chemical.

But how exactly does this harmful chemical make its way into spices?

Why Are There Pesticides in Spices?

According to the American Spice Trade Association, pesticides like ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are used to control microbial hazards in spices.

Ethylene oxide is used in the spice industry to reduce microbial contamination of harmful pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella.

Other effective options include irradiation and steam.

While ethylene oxide has its risks, it is an approved method under current guidelines. As technology continues to advance, additional treatment methods may become available.

Tolerances for Ethylene Oxide in Spices

Just because it is allowed, doesn’t mean that manufacturers are able to add as much as they want. Allowable limits, or tolerances, are set for different adulterations on different foods. When it comes to ethylene oxide and chlorohydrin, these limits are set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

For most spices and herbs (except basil), a limit of 7 parts per million (ppm) in the final product is set. This 7 ppm limit is also established for sesame, peppermint, and spearmint.

These limits not only apply to products made in the United States, but also products imported in the United States. All manufacturers are held to the same standards. Abuse of those standards results in requests for recalls and denial of commerce.

MDA and Everest Aren’t the Only Companies with Pesticides in Spices

Sadly, MDA and Everest are not the only companies with pesticides in spices that put consumers at risk. Several studies analyzing pesticides in a variety of have revealed the industry-wide problem.

One study revealed that residues of 24 different pesticides were detected in 59% of analyzed spice samples.

Mycotoxins were detected in 4% of nutmeg samples, 10% of basil samples, and 30% of thyme samples.

This study also compared concentrations to regulated allowable limits. In this study, the maximum allowable residue levels of pesticides were exceeded in 10% of oregano and 46% of thyme samples.

Have You Become Sick After Consuming MDA or Everest Brand Spices?

Have you become sick after consuming MDA or Everest brand spices? An experienced food poisoning lawyer can help you navigate the legal process. The food poisoning lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC have helped people recover negligent food manufacturers and restaurants and may be able to help you too. Call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation. Or click here to email for more information.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like FDA Launches Investigation on Pesticides in Spices After Hong Kong’s Crackdown on Indian Spice Manufacturers MDH and Everest, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)