The presence of an unauthorized substance in sesame seeds from India has prompted a spate of product recalls across Europe.

The ethylene oxide alert was first raised by Belgium in early September but now concerns almost 20 countries. Ethylene oxide is a genotoxic carcinogen after regular consumption.

Sesame seeds were used in the production of flour and recalled products include bread and bagels.

Several supermarket chains in Belgium have recalled products from shelves because of the high content of residues in the sesame seeds in them.

Seeds used in a variety of products
Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland are all listed as being affected.

Recalled Delhaize bagels

In Belgium, Soubry, Soezie, Colruyt, Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Focaccia BV, La Lorraine Bakery Group, ’t Bakhuisje, l’Artemeersmolen and Aveve have issued recalls. In France, Auchan recalled some bagels, as did Aldente GmbH in Germany. Authorities told people who had the products not to consume them and to return items to the point of sale for a refund.

The use of ethylene oxide as a component of plant protection products is prohibited under EU regulation but its use as part of biocidal products is authorized for certain items.

Ethylene oxide is used to control insects as a fumigant for spices, seasonings, and foodstuffs. It is employed instead of high temperature processes that may damage certain products such as herbs, spices and seeds.

Ethylene oxide is used by the U.S. spice industry to prevent microbial contaminants such as Salmonella and E. coli, reduce bacterial loads, yeast and mold, coliforms and other pathogens.

In late 2019, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency proposed to establish maximum residue limits (MRLs) for ethylene oxide on dried vegetables and sesame seeds to permit the sale of foods containing such residues. It is an insecticide registered in Canada for use on whole or ground spices and processed natural seasonings.

The MRLs proposed for ethylene oxide of 7 parts per million are the same as American tolerances. There are no Codex MRLs listed for ethylene oxide in or on any commodity.

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