India’s Spice Recalls Prompt Calls for Tighter Food Safety Standards

India’s curry spice recalls in Singapore and Hong Kong prompt calls for tighter food safety standards.

India has imposed mandatory testing on its spice exports after traces of a potentially cancer-causing compound were found in the products of two popular local brands in overseas markets, as industry players urge the global curry mix powerhouse to tighten its supply chain to restore consumer confidence.

New Delhi issued guidelines to prevent ethylene oxide contamination in spices last week following recent recalls of products from leading Indian brands MDH and Everest in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Ethylene oxide is a colorless gas used as a pesticide and to make other chemicals.

“The issues have been sorted. We have put in place mandatory tests,” BN Jha, director of marketing at the Spices Board of India, the government regulatory and export promotion agency for Indian spices, told This Week in Asia on Monday. He noted that the contaminant was found in a consignment shipped 18 months ago and could have occurred naturally.

India plans to conduct mandatory pre-shipment sample testing for six months, after which it will reassess the situation to see if there are persistent concerns.

Raj Paroda, a former director general of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, told This Week in Asia: “We are concerned because it’s a matter of prestige and reputation. The system should be made stronger in terms of traceability and quality.”

Last month, Hong Kong suspended sales of three MDH spice blends and one Everest product due to high levels of ethylene oxide. Singapore has ordered a recall of Everest’s fish curry masala mix on similar grounds, and countries including New Zealand, the United States, India, and Australia are investigating the issue.

MDH and Everest, two of India’s most popular spice brands, have said their products are safe for consumption.

“We do not use ethylene oxide at any stage of our spice production. Our products adhere to stringent health and safety standards,” MDH said in a statement reported by India’s Mint newspaper on April 28.

Following the recalls, Britain’s food watchdog applied extra control measures on all spice imports from India starting this month.

Once valued more than gold and silver, India’s spices trade spurred European traders to sail to the country in the 15th century. While India’s spice exports remain significant, the country must overhaul its approach to food safety and public communication to boost consumer confidence, industry experts say.

Over 400 products from India were flagged by the European Union between 2019 and 2024 for containing contaminants, according to a report by the Indian newspaper Deccan Herald.