Singapore recall of popular spice mix raises domestic food safety concerns in India

NEW DELHI – Like most Indian homes, Mr. Vijay Ranjan’s kitchen is stocked with a variety of powdered spices essential for Indian cooking. These include turmeric, cumin, coriander and red chili.

Also on her shelf is garam masala, a blend of ground spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns, often added as a final garnish to dishes.

These spices in Mr Ranjan’s house often came from best-selling brands Everest, which is endorsed by big film stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, and MDH.

But recent revelations that some products from these two manufacturers contain dangerous levels of ethylene oxide (a fumigant agent commonly used in spices but also a known carcinogen) have surprised consumers like Ranjan, a 48-year-old lawyer who lives in Faridabad. a city near Delhi.

“We thought they were the only good brands available,” he said. “But now I’m skeptical.”

In April, Hong Kong suspended sales of three spice blends made by MDH and another by Everest after finding ethylene oxide in their samples during regular monitoring. Hong Kong has banned the sale of foods containing ethylene oxide. Later that month, Singapore also recalled an Everest fish curry mix, claiming its ethylene oxide content exceeded permitted limits.

Since then, Indian spices have also come under the scrutiny of food safety authorities in countries such as the United States, Australia and Nepal, with the Maldives even banning the sale of Indian spices.

Everest has said its spices are safe for consumption and that its products were exported “only after receiving the necessary authorizations,” and MDH maintains that claims that its spices are contaminated with ethylene oxide are “false and lack evidence.” that substantiate them.”

These revelations that Indian spice products allegedly contained the carcinogenic fumigant agent have sparked widespread concern among Indians about the safety of the spices and other foods they consume.

It has also called into question the ability of India’s food safety regulatory system to detect harmful contamination.

Ethylene oxide is banned in food under India’s food safety law.

As many as 62 percent of respondents surveyed by, a community social media platform, said they had consumed MDH and spices from Everest and were concerned about these contamination reports.

According to the survey released on April 25, 73 percent of the approximately 12,300 respondents also said they had “no confidence at all” or “little confidence” in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the authority of the country. main food regulator, when it comes to guaranteeing food safety for consumers.

These reports of harmful contamination in well-known Indian spice brands have also caused reputational damage to the country’s spice export trade, caused by closer scrutiny of its products abroad and associated bans.

India is the world’s largest spice exporter, with a 12 percent share of global spice exports. In the financial year ending March 2024, US$4.25 billion (S$5.7 billion) worth of spices were exported, with Singapore receiving US$50 million worth of these products. China and the United States were the main buyers of Indian spices that year.

A May 1 report by the Delhi-based think tank Global Trade Research Initiative called for “urgent attention and action” to protect the credibility of Indian spices and said that if China and ASEAN countries impose restrictions on imports, this could pose a risk to more than half of India’s spice exports.