Ethylene oxide

What is ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide is carcinogenic, mutagenic and is toxic to reproduction. It has not been possible to set a toxicological limit value nor a safe intake value for the substance. This is why the ethylene oxide must not enter the food chain at all.

What foods has ethylene oxide been found in?

So far, ethylene oxide has been found in sesame seeds and oil made from the seeds as well as in tahini, ginger extract and in locust bean gum (E410), guar gum (E412) and xanthan gum (E415) used as additives. Information about recalls. (in Finnish and Swedish)

How has ethylene oxide ended up in food?

No detailed information is available on this. So far, all the foods that ethylene oxide has been detected in have been from outside of the EU. Ethylene oxide is used in some parts of the world as a plant protection product for the sterilisation of seeds and spices, for example. The use of ethylene oxide in food sterilisation is prohibited in the EU.

What if a food contains ethylene oxide?

Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food or feed of plant or animal origin lays down the maximum level for the presence of ethylene oxide. The maximum levels laid down are not limit values for toxicological safety but are technical and based on measurement levels in analysis methods. If a food business operator becomes aware that a food placed on the market contains ethylene oxide exceeding the maximum level permitted by law, the business shall initiate measures to withdraw the product and notify consumers accordingly.

What if a raw material used in food manufacturing contains ethylene oxide?

Under the precautionary principle, also a food that contains a raw material containing ethylene oxide must also be withdrawn from the market. This also applies to situations where investigations are no longer able to determine the presence ethylene oxide in the finished product itself. All the same, the product could still contain the substance. It has not been possible to set a safe intake level and the presence of the substance, whatever the concentration, in food may pose a potential risk to the consumer.

Summary record published by the European Commission on 16 July 2021 on the presence of ethylene oxide in additives pdf

I’ve eaten a product that is now being withdrawn from the market. Should I be worried?

Although in small concentrations ethylene oxide is not known to cause a serious direct health risk, the product should not be used. Any detrimental effects on health are likely to occur only after long-term use. This is why it is necessary to withdraw from sale each product containing ethylene oxide.

What are the food control authorities doing?

The food control authorities are continuing their efforts to withdraw products containing ethylene oxide or manufactured using raw materials contaminated with ethylene oxide from the market. The authorities in EU Member States use the rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) to notify information so that products containing ethylene oxide can be rapidly withdrawn from the market.


Page last updated 9/17/2021