List of food recalls for ethylene oxide grows
20 October 2021
Danielle Cawdron, Section Manager
European countries and the UK are facing more ethylene oxide related recalls after the substance was detected in more
food additives used in a large range of food products.
The first alarm was first raised by Belgium in September 2020 with foods containing sesame seeds contaminated with
ethylene oxide from India. Since, ethylene oxide has also been found in a range of food additives including amongst others locust bean gum
(E410), xantham gum (E415), guar gum (E412) and calcium carbonate (E170).
These ingredients are widely used in formulation and usually sold across major brands and retailers, as a consequence,
thousands more food items including biscuits, cereals, flour, cheese, ice creams, tea, and ready meals but also food supplements, have been
taken off the shelves.
So, how can food companies ensure the safety of their products and retain consumer trust in your brand?
Ethylene oxide problem: Toxicity!
Ethylene oxide gas has disinfectant properties against bacteria, fungi and viruses, and is widely used to sterilise
materials and instruments used in surgery and for medical devices.
However, classified as a category 1B mutagen, carcinogen, and toxic compound for reproduction, it is not allowed for food use in the European
Union (EU) and the U.K. It is regulated in food by:
- Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005 defines the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for ethylene oxide as the sum of ethylene oxide and its metabolite
2- chloroethanol, in or on foods. The legislation sets a MRL at the limit of quantification (LOQ), thus meaning that it must
not be detected in food.
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/1540, since 22 October 2020, sesame seeds originating from India must be tested for the
presence of ethylene oxide prior to export to the EU.
- Regulation (EU) 231/2012, which lays down the specifications for food additives, ethylene oxide is not allowed to be used for sterilising
purposes in food additives and sets limits for some additives involving it in the production process.
However, the use of ethylene oxide for food is not restricted in all countries and, through global trading,
manufacturers could be purchasing contaminated raw materials. Making their way to the E.U. and the U.K., they are then processed further.
European and British food business should be aware that ethylene oxide is also used, by these countries, to fumigate
freight containers and warehouses. Remaining stable in the atmosphere over a longer period of time, inadequate subsequent ventilation can
lead to cross-contamination in the course of warehousing and transportation.
Analysis of ethylene oxide residue in foods
With food business responsible for the safety of their products, testing for the presence of ethylene oxide residues
in or on food items is essential. If MRLs are exceeded, they must withdraw affected products from the market and, recall them from the
How we can support the market
We offer testing of raw
materials and food matrices for the presence of ethylene oxide and its metabolite 2- chloroethanol using GC-MS technique in our
laboratory in Chipping Campden.
To support the food industry to ensure compliance with MRL’s, we have optimised the robustness of our procedure
enabling us to process large numbers of samples.
Danielle Cawdron joined Campden BRI in 2009 as a technician in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department having graduated with a Masters degree in
Ethylene oxide residue testing
Ensure the quality and safety of your products and protect your brand reputation with ethylene
oxide and 2-Chloroethanol residue testing.
How can we help you?
Our ethylene oxide testing service is essential to help your business deliver safe products to the
market and retain consumer trust. Contact our Support team to find out how we can help.