Ethylene oxide in food in Britain

This bit of Dutch news caught my attention:

Before you start worrying on the basis of what I am reporting below, stop worrying. It’s good to keep an eye on these developments, however.

The Dutch and the rest of the EU are having lots of product recalls – FOOD product recalls – because it contains (too much) ethylene oxide. It’s likely coming from India.

That makes it probable that this is happening in Britain too.

Think sesame seed, cookies, ginger, vermicelli, food supplements and tomato sauces that contain locust bean gum as thickener (E410). Dried shallots, rice and tea, pasta and pies are also on the list of products that can have this contamination.

A quick web search mostly turned up food trade news that focused on what’s happening abroad.

This does not:

Turns out that the UK opted for withdrawal of sales of products but no recalls.

Ethylene oxide is used to disinfect food stuffs as it kills bacteria, fungi and viruses. (Fungi are eukaryotes, just like humans. That always makes it a bit more likely that a toxic compound can also affect humans, as opposed to when it kills only viruses and/or bacteria. So do aflatoxins – toxins produced by fungi – and this is part of the reason why compounds like this one are used.)

Food Watch motivated the EU into regulating ethylene oxide and as of this summer, all foods containing ore than 0.1 mg/kg must no longer be sold and if sold, recalled. Last year, however, also saw product recalls.

There is no acute toxicity, but the cumulative effect of the consumption of ethylene oxide is not well known and may lead to tumour growth in the stomach.

It’s likely already been in our food for a long time. We did not pay attention to it until recently.

Here is the WHO’s take:


Further reading:



(Like cyanide, ethylene oxide also occurs in cigarette smoke in small quantities.)