Since September 2020, when Belgium reported for the first time ever the presence of ethylene oxide above the maximum legal limit in sesame seeds from India - which had more than 1,000 times the established MRL for this substance - the EU has continued to report many new alerts thanks to its strictest import controls. Since then, according to data from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (Rasff), EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, and the United Kingdom have issued up to 690 notifications.
The countries with the most alerts are the Netherlands (208) and Germany (90). They are followed by Belgium (79), Spain (49), France (30), and Italy (28); and the recalled products range from additives and condiments to nuts and seeds, including herbs, spices, ice cream, desserts, cereals, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, cocoa preparations, coffee, and tea.
Banned use in the EU
Roberto Ortuño, the head of Food Safety at Ainia, the first Spanish laboratory that has been accredited to analyze ethylene oxide –specifically in fruits and vegetables, oilseeds, legumes, cereals, spices, and other foods–, stated that this compound was considered a possible human carcinogen with mutagenic effects and that it is acutely toxic in case of inhalation.
In fact, according to Ainia, ethylene oxide is classified as a category 1B mutagen, a category 1B carcinogen, and a category 1B reproductive toxicant.
Its use as an active substance in plant protection products in the European Union is not approved; however, it is used in third countries, and the importation of products with residues below the legal limit of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram is allowed.