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Explained | What is ethylene oxide, why is it used in food?

Ethylene oxide, a colourless gas, is used as a pesticide and sterilising agent, though the chemical was originally intended to sterilise medical devices.
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 09:31 IST
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 09:31 IST

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Ethylene oxide (ETO), a cancer-causing chemical whose traces led to a ban on Indian products in Hong Kong and Singapore, has been routinely found in Indian products by the European Food Safety Authority but no proactive steps have been taken by officials to ban the use of the chemical.

In view of this development, food safety regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has started taking samples of spices in powder form of all brands, including MDH and Everest, from across the country in view of quality concerns flagged by Singapore and Hong Kong, a government source told PTI.

FSSAI does not regulate quality of exported spices, they said. FSSAI, which operates under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, takes samples of spices regularly from the market to check the quality of product sold in the domestic market.

What is ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide, a colourless gas, is used as a pesticide and sterilising agent, though the chemical was originally intended to sterilise medical devices. Exposure to the ethylene oxide is said to cause lymphoma and leukemia among other cancers.

Why is ethylene oxide used in food?

ETO is often used as a sterilizer in order to keep a curb on microbial load. It disrupts the reproductive processes of microorganisms, thus preventing food from getting spoiled.

As ETO is gaseous, it can easily seep into breathable packaging and come in contact with the items that require sterility assuance level. The process of sterilization neutralises yeasts, molds, bacteria (vegetative), and spore formers, in turn extending the shelf life of the food items.

Whenever food sterilized using ethylene oxide is not aerated, it leaves behind a residue. This, in turn, forms toxic compounds like 2-Chloroethanol (2-CE), Ethylene Chlorohydrin (ECH) and Ethylene Glycol (EG).

Bureau Veritas India Testing Services says that ETO, as well as products from its breakdown, besides being carcinogenic, can also cause considerable organ damage.

With DHNS, PTI inputs

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Published 25 April 2024, 09:31 IST

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