Ethylene Oxide in Locust Bean Gum

What is ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide is a chemical used as a pesticide, fumigant or sterilising agent. In the EU, the use of ethylene oxide as a pesticide or for the disinfection of food is not permitted.

What are the health risks from consuming food contaminated with ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide is classified by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) as a mutagen, carcinogen and a reproductive toxicant. The consumption of foods containing ethylene oxide does not pose an acute risk to health, but there is an increased health risk if foods contaminated with ethylene oxide are consumed over a long period of time. Therefore, exposure to Ethylene oxide needs to be minimised.

Is ethylene oxide a problem in Ireland?

Since September 2020, the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) has notified the presence of multiple foods on the European market that are contaminated with ethylene oxide. For example, since September 2020 there have been a number of recalls of foods containing sesame seeds from India that were contaminated with ethylene oxide. Recently the FSAI was notified of Locust bean gum (E410) contaminated with ethylene oxide supplied to and distributed to a number of food businesses in Ireland, as well as other Member States.

What is locust bean gum?

Locust bean gum (also known as carob gum, carob bean gum or E410) is a vegetable gum extracted from the seeds of the Carob tree. Locust bean gum (E410) is approved for use as a food additive in the EU (under the additives Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008). Locust bean gum is mainly used as a thickener or stabiliser in a broad range of food products.

What foods contain locust bean gum (E410)?

The food additive locust bean gum (E 410) is authorised for use under the additives regulation (EC No. 1333/2008) in many different food categories including ice-cream, breakfast cereals, meat products, confectionery, follow on formulae, fine bakery wares, fermented milk products and cheese. However, its authorisation in these food categories does not necessarily mean that it is actually used in all of these foods.

Are all products which contain locust bean gum (E410) affected?

No, only products which contain E410 that has been contaminated with ethylene oxide are affected.

How do I know if my food has been contaminated with ethylene oxide?

Consumers will be informed of affected food through Food Alerts on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s website and by point of sale notices in shops.

What are the current food regulations governing ethylene oxide?

Ethylene oxide is regulated in food by Regulation (EC) 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food. This regulation defines ethylene oxide as the sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloro-ethanol (a related product) expressed as ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide is prohibited from use in pesticides in the EU and hence this legislation sets a maximum limit for its residues (MRLs) at the limit of quantification (LOQ), meaning that it must not be detected in food.

Ethylene oxide is not allowed to be used for sterilising purposes in food additives according to Regulation (EU) 231/2012 which lays down the specifications for food additives. Although limits for ethylene oxide residues have been set under this legislation for a few food additives where it is used in their production, these do not apply to Locust bean gum (E410).

In line with the EU Commission publication, food businesses who have placed products on the EU market incorporating Locust bean gum (E410) contaminated with ethylene oxide above the LOQ (0.1mg/kg*) must withdraw affected products from the market and recall them from the consumers.

What should food businesses do with stock known to be contaminated with ethylene oxide?

Implicated batches that are withdrawn from the market or recalled from consumers should not be reintroduced to the food chain in any form, including as animal feed. Documented verification of the disposal, destruction or return to supplier of the affected batch(es) and product(s) should be retained.

 What is the FSAI doing?

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is engaging in a number of product recalls and withdrawals from the market. The FSAI is working with the EU Commission and European partners to raise awareness of this issue and is in close consultation with its European partners and official agencies in relation to the identification of the contaminated additive (E410) that has been supplied to businesses or food manufacturers in Ireland.

Further information

The FSAI will provide updates as and when further information becomes available.

* Taking into account measurement of uncertainty.

Last reviewed: 1/9/2021

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