Ethylene oxide is a colorless, highly combustible, and sweet-smelling gas that is capable of killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Due to this property, ethylene oxide is often used to fumigate or to reduce the microbe content of heat-sensitive food products, such as spices. Since ethylene oxide and its degradation product chloroethanol are considered carcinogens, this method of treatment was banned in the European Union in 1990. In other countries, however, food products are still fumigated with ethylene oxide, e.g., before they are shipped.
In September 2020, the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reported very high levels of ethylene oxide in certain batches of sesame seeds that originated in India or were shipped from India and imported into the European Union. According to the Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, the maximum residue level for ethylene oxide is 0.02 - 0.1 mg/kg, yet these values exceeded the MRL by a factor of more than a thousand.
In order to protect public health, the European Commission published the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/1540 on October 23rd, 2020. The regulation already took effect on October 26th, 2020 and calls for heightened inspections of sesame seeds imported from India, testing them for ethylene oxide. In particular, the official certificate provided with all shipments must also indicate that the product has been sampled and analyzed for the required pesticide residues, and that the results of the sampling and analysis conform with the European Union requirements for pesticide maximum residue levels. The results of the sampling and analysis should be provided along with this certificate. Furthermore, the goods and their identity should be inspected at a frequency of 50%.
The GBA Group has long-term experience analyzing ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol (by means of GC-ECD technology). Also the new method, using the QuEChERS method and GC-MS/MS, is fully validated at GBA Group for all matrices. The EU specifies a limit of quantification (LOQ) of 0.02 mg/kg. The GBA Group has successfully established the new QuEChERS-method with a LOQ of 0.01 mg/kg.
Food safety and risk management regarding ethylene oxide contamination.
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