List of food recalls for ethylene oxide grows - supermarket shelves

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.
List of food recalls for ethylene oxide grows - cargo ships

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 consumers.

How we can support the market

List of food recalls for ethylene oxide grows - laboratory testing equipment

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

About Danielle Cawdron

Danielle Cawdron joined Campden BRI in 2009 as a technician in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department having graduated with a Masters degree in Chemistry.

Read more...

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.

Ethylene oxide 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. +44(0)1386 842000

More on Analysis and testing

Chicken breast being packed on a production line

Validation trial for Blakbear Ltd’s freshness indicator

Blakbear’s mission is to expedite the transition away from fixed use-by dates, by bringing quality assurance to every package.

Sample testing in laboratory

Selecting the right method or test kit for your food allergen testing

With so many different food allergen tests available, it can be daunting to select the most appropriate option. We can help you.

Consumer eating something with a bad taste

Identification of foreign bodies

Analytical methods and identification strategies involved in investigating foreign bodies, key considerations for typical foreign body categories, and how kn...


Are you getting the ingredients you paid for?

For more on analysis and testing, including rapid turnaround for urgent testing, visit our service pages.

Dry foods in bowls on table

Accelerated shelf-life testing of food and beverage products

Here we outline the services we offer in this area, signpost other useful tools, and unpack some of the key considerations and limitations for conducting acc...

Setting a shelf life for ambient food

Setting shelf-life for ambient food and beverage products

Exploring shelf-life limiting quality parameters and considerations for setting a ‘best before’ date for ambient goods

Contact an expert