Analysis of Ethylene Oxide in Food

In September 2020, Belgium first raised the alarm about ethylene oxide residues in Sesame seeds exported from India. Post the initial RASFF notification, there were 3,862 original notifications for rejections due to presence of ETO above MRLs. Since September 2021, thousands of food products including Sesame seeds were recalled from European Market, due to contamination with ethylene oxide. These related recalls are still continuing for organic products, oilseeds and other food products having long shelf life such as sesame seeds, cereals, Bakery products, Spices/condiments, fruits/vegetables, nuts etc.

Ethylene Oxide i.e. ETO is a colorless, flammable gas. ETO is widely used as a sterilizer to reduce the microbial load as it disrupts cellular metabolism and reproductive processes of microorganisms. Being gaseous, It penetrates breathable packaging, making contact with all accessible surfaces of the product to deliver the required sterility assurance level (SAL).Sterilization process kills yeasts, molds, vegetative bacteria, spore formers and allows food manufacturers, producers, distributors to extend its shelf-life. It also allows the food processors to store and distribute the products safely.

Whenever food is sterilized with Ethylene Oxide and is not aerated properly, Ethylene Oxide generally remains as a residue. This leads to the formation of highly toxic compounds such as 2-Chloroethanol (2-CE), Ethylene Chlorohydrin (ECH) and Ethylene Glycol (EG) . ETO and its breakdown products are carcinogenic and can cause severe organ damage.

Food Manufacturers’/ processors/packers using ethylene oxide as a sterilizing agent are obliged to demonstrate that ethylene oxide and its common degradants are removed from the food product and packaging.

Across European Union, Ethylene Oxide residues are regulated in compliance with:

  • (EU) 2020/1540 -  regulations for Ethylene Oxide monitoring
  • (EU) 2021/2246 - regulations for increase of official controls and emergency measures for entry of goods having Ethylene Oxide
  • (EU) 2019/1793 - Sesame seeds originating in India
  •  (EU) 2015/868 - Maximum residual limits (MRLs) for ETO and 2-CE in different foods / Agriculture Commodities ranging from 0.02 to 0.1 mg/kg
  • (EC) No 396/2005 - Maximum residue level of 0.05 mg/kg

EU has proposed separate Maximum residual limits (MRLs) for ethylene oxide and its primary metabolite 2-chloroethanol in different food and agriculture commodities ranging from 0.02 to 0.1 mg/kg (Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/868.

Bureau Veritas India Testing Services is accredited (ISO 17025:2017) for analysis of ETO and its metabolites in foods and approved by APEDA for testing of ETO in organic products.  

Products we test : Spices, Oilseeds, Tea, Cereals, Pulses, Fruits, Vegetables, Guar Gum, Bakery products, Processed foods, Agriculture products, all food groups, raw materials and Organic products at an LOQ level – 0.01mg/kg

Using our expertise in worldwide market, we ensure your products are safe to export, thus help reducing risk of all stakeholders involved in the global food chain.