The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has started collecting samples of powdered spices from all brands across the country to check their quality, reported PTI on Tuesday.

This came after Hong Kong and Singapore raised alarm over the presence of ethylene oxide in the products sold by Everest and MDH.

A Group 1 carcinogen is a compound or physical factor that has been proven, with sufficient evidence, to cause cancer in humans. Benzene, asbestos, consumption of processed meats and smoking are Group 1 carcinogens.

While manufacturers often use ethylene oxide as a fumigant and a germicide to extend the shelf life of products, India’s food safety regulator does not permit its use.

In view of the concerns, India’s food safety regulator has started taking samples of spices of all brands, including MDH and Everest, to check whether they meet quality standards, an unidentified official told PTI.

The official also said that the Food Safety and Standards of Authority India, which operates under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, does not regulate the quality of exported spices.

Maharashtra Food Assistant Commissioner (vigilance/intelligence) Ulhas Ingwale told Scroll that the authority received inputs on pesticide residue in selected flavours of MDH and Everest on Monday. "We will hold a meeting today and decide on sample collection and testing for pesticides," he said.

Ingwale added that routine testing of spices in India does not include specific tests for pesticide residues. "Such tests are carried out only if we have information about specific violations,” he said. “We may now conduct these tests on all spices if we begin the drive."

On April 5, Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety banned the sale of and recalled MDH Madras Curry Powder, MDH Sambhar Masala, MDH Curry Powder and Everest Fish Curry Masala.

“The CFS [Centre for Food Safety] collected the above-mentioned samples…for testing under its routine Food Surveillance Programme,” the centre said in a statement. “The test results showed that the samples contained a pesticide, ethylene oxide.”

According to Hong Kong’s Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation, food for human consumption “containing pesticide residue may only be sold if consumption of the food is not dangerous or prejudicial” to health, it said.

“An offender is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for six months upon conviction,” read the statement.

Everest’s fish curry spice mixture has also been recalled by the Singapore Food Agency on the grounds that it contains higher-than-permissible levels of ethylene oxide. “Ethylene oxide…is not authorised for use in food,” the Singaporean agency’s statement read.