Australian regulator examines possible contamination of Indian spice mixes

A man adjusts the spice boxes of MDH and Everest on the shelf of a shop at a market in New Delhi

By Rishika Sadam and Aditya Kalra

HYDERABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Australia's food safety agency is collecting information on the possible contamination of spice mixes sold by Indian companies MDH and Everest to decide if a food recall is required, it said on Tuesday, the latest regulator to step up scrutiny.

Hong Kong suspended sales this month of three MDH spice blends and an Everest mix for fish curry. Singapore ordered a recall of the same Everest mix as well, flagging high levels of ethylene oxide, which is unfit for human consumption and a cancer risk over long exposure.

"We are working with international counterparts to understand the issue and with federal, state and territory food enforcement agencies to determine if further action is required in Australia," Food Standards Australia New Zealand said in a statement.

Such action could include a recall, it said, adding, "Ethylene oxide is not permitted to be used as a treatment for foods sold in Australia."

MDH and Everest did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment. They have previously said their products are safe for consumption.

Their spice brands, among the most popular in India, are also sold in Europe, Asia and North America.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Friday it is also gathering additional information on the matter, while Indian authorities have recently inspected the plants of MDH and Everest.

In 2019, a few batches of an MDH product were recalled in the U.S. for salmonella contamination. In 2023, the FDA ordered a recall of two Everest spice mixes for the same contamination risk.

India is the biggest exporter, consumer and producer of spices in the world. MDH and Everest are among the biggest companies in India's spices market, which Zion Market Research estimates was worth $10.44 billion in 2022. The government says India exported products worth $4 billion during 2022-23.

India said last week it had sought data on MDH and Everest exports from authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore after the regulatory action.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said in a statement the Indian embassy there has also been informed "of the test results for follow-up actions," without elaborating further.

(Reporting by Rishika Sadam and Aditya Kalra; Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Christian Schmollinger)