The European Commission plans to change the rules on the presence of ethylene oxide in food additives.
The revision was made because of the challenges in implementing the current legislation due to the unclear source of ethylene oxide in food additives. The EU does not allow the use of chemicals to disinfect food.
The problem started in September 2020 with sesame seeds from India. In 2020, most of the Emergency Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) alerts related to sesame seed products, while in 2021 and 2022, locust bean gum from Turkey, guar gum, A variety of items were reported, including xanthan gum, dietary supplements, and spices. .
At least six meetings were held at European level with countries expressing concerns about how the issue was handled. The ethylene oxide incident is the biggest food recall operation in his EU history, according to a 2021 Alert and Cooperation Network report.
Bridging gaps in current law
The EU’s position is that products containing the additive locust bean gum containing ethylene oxide should be withdrawn or recalled to protect consumers. One recent example is the contaminated General Mills Haagen-Dazs ice cream that has been distributed to about 80 countries.
Current EU regulations stipulate that ethylene oxide cannot be used for sterilization purposes in food additives. However, there is no quantified limit for what is present in all additives. Some additives treated with this material have limits set for ethylene oxide not exceeding 0.2 mg/kg.
There have been hundreds of RASFF notices reporting the discovery of ethylene oxide in many food additives used in the manufacture of various foods.
Based on these reports and information from official controls by Member States, the EU Commission has decided to impose measures on commodities of non-animal origin entering an area from certain countries in order to protect public health due to the risk of contamination. established.
However, enforcement has caused problems as it is difficult to establish whether the presence of ethylene oxide was used to sterilize food additives or for other reasons.
Strengthening additive management
To avoid these problems, the European Commission said it was appropriate to say that the presence of ethylene oxide, regardless of its origin, was not authorized as a food additive.
The upper limit of ethylene oxide residues in food additives should be set at the limit of quantification. This means the lowest residue concentration that can currently be quantified and reported by routine monitoring using validated control methods.
The new regulation states that food additives listed in EU legislation, including mixtures of food additives, must not contain more than 0.1 mg/kg ethylene oxide (the sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol expressed as ethylene oxide). It is stipulated that no residue should be present.
The regulation, which will apply from September, was endorsed in March by the New Food and Toxicological Safety Section of the Food Chain of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.
The maximum level may be revisited in the future based on technological advances that achieve lower limits of quantification by routine analytical methods by European Union laboratories.
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