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Trouble for Indian spices in US: Health officials swoop in amid contamination allegations

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened a probe into discovering the actual composition of two Indian spice makers’ blends that allegedly contain high levels of cancer-causing pesticides. Earlier this month, Hong Kong even dropped their sales (and banned) three spice mixes by MDH – Madras Curry Powder, Sambhar Masala Powder and Curry Powder – and an Everest spice blend – Fish Curry Masala, alleging the presence of hazardous amounts of ethylene oxide.

FILE PHOTO: Boxes of Everest fish curry masala are stacked on the shelf of a shop at a market in Srinagar, April 23, 2024. REUTERS/Sharafat Ali/File Photo(REUTERS)

Reuters reported the US FDA’s review of the alleged health-threatening contamination. On Friday, a spokesperson added that the FDA was well aware of the reports and “is gathering additional information about the situation.”

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How have the Indian spice-making brands MDH and Everest responded?

The media outlet initially reported that while both brands have yet to comment on the issue, Everest eventually asserted on Tuesday that its spices were safe for consumption. The Indian spice giant also formally responded that its products were exported “only after receiving necessary clearances and approval from the laboratories of the Spice Board of India.”

On the other hand, MDH disregarded the allegations as “baseless, untrue (with a) lack (of) any substantiating evidence.” MDH’s statement reported by the PTI added, “MDH has not received any communication from regulatory authorities of Singapore and Hong Kong” on Saturday. Furthermore, to reassure customers, the Indian spice brand firmly stated, “We abide by health and safety standards, both domestically and internationally.”

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The Spices Board of India, the flagship organisation handling worldwide promotions and spice exports, addressed the case, stating that it had requested the data for MDH and Everest’s exports from authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore. The Indian regulator for spice exports also claimed to be working jointly with the companies to narrow down the “root cause” of the alleged quality red flags. Inspection has commenced at the respective plants to “ensure adherence with regulatory standards.”

Spices Board also added in a statement: “The Board is in touch with Indian missions in Singapore and Hong Kong to get more information.”

History of Indian Spice Controversy in the US

The top Indian cooking brand, MDH, was under fire in 2019, too, as some of its batches of sambhar powder were pulled off the shelves for salmonella contamination.

FDA’s September 11, 2019, statement read: “House of Spices (India) is recalling different lots of “MDH SAMBAR MASALA”, 3.5oz (100g) UPC code 6291103750327. This product is produced by R-PURE AGRO SPECIALITIES and distributed by HOUSE OF SPICES (INDIA). This product was tested by FDA through a certified laboratory to be positive for Salmonella.”

The recalled lot of the MDH sambhar powder was distributed in northern California retail stores. FDA warned against its consumption as Salmonella can cause bacterial foodborne illnesses, including salmonellosis. Its common symptoms entailed “diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated product.”

 

 

 

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