The European Commission has strengthened checks on sesame seeds from India as recalls due to pesticide residue contamination continue.

The move was prompted by food safety incidents notified through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal and information from official controls by member states on the seeds from India.

An alert was first raised by Belgium in early September and now includes more than 50 notifications from France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Austria, Norway, and Sweden.

Contaminated seeds have also been sent to Andorra, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

High-level contamination
In September, very high levels of ethylene oxide were notified through RASFF in certain batches of sesame seeds originating in or sent from India and having entered the EU. Those results exceed more than 1,000 times the maximum residue limit (MRL) of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram for ethylene oxide set by regulation. Ethylene oxide is also not approved as an active substance for use in plant protection products.

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Such contamination constitutes a serious risk to human health as it is classed as a mutagen, a carcinogen, and a reproductive toxicant, according to the Commission. Ethylene oxide is not an acute health hazard but can be harmful if continually ingested over time. Experts at the NVWA are investigating how much-contaminated sesame seed you have to eat before there are issues and results are expected shortly.

Ethylene oxide was used to inhibit the growth of Salmonella during the storage of sesame seeds in India.

Several batches of sesame seeds from five producers in India were contaminated with ethylene oxide above the MRL, according to the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).

Contaminated sesame products have been used in a range of products including cereals, salads, chocolate, biscuits, bread, crackers, sesame oil, bagels, and Asian dishes.

Increased border checks
The official certificate which accompanies all consignments of sesame seeds from India should also state the products have been sampled and analyzed for residues of pesticides to be monitored in/on products of plant origin, and that results show compliance with EU legislation on maximum residue levels of pesticides. The results of sampling and analysis should be attached to the certificate.

The frequency of physical and identity checks for pesticide residues on sesame seeds from India at the EU borders should be set at 50 percent for the time being. They are already on the list of products subject to extra checks due to Salmonella.

Consignments of sesame seeds from India that left the country of origin or the place of dispatch before the regulation became applicable this week are not subject to the enhanced rules.

Mattilsynet (Norwegian Food Safety Authority) has instructed companies with products containing sesame seeds that have been proven to contain ethylene oxide to destroy items by incineration as they cannot be used for food, feed, or fertilizer.

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