MDH and Everest: Indian spices face heat over global safety concerns

MDH and Everest: Indian spices face heat over global safety concerns
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” For Indians, ingredients are like creates in a color box”, says Indian professional- turned- food author Madhur Jaffrey. By altering the seasoning,” We can get unique shades from the same seasoning.”

In other words, you may roast the ingredients or crush them into powder. The richness of their flavorings is thoughts- boggling. Pickles and foods are seasoning with Indian ingredients. They add flavor to street foods and mouthwatering. Nearby fruit drinks are fueled by zingy spices, which give them a sour twist.

Unsurprisingly, India has emerged as a global pepper powerhouse. It exports more than 200 spices and value- added products to some 180 countries, worth$ 4bn ( £. 1bn ), according to the Spices Board of India. The country is the largest spice customer in the world, accounting for$ 10 billion on its own.

However, problems are now growing about these renowned ingredients ‘ security. Due to a suspected higher amounts of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing pesticide, in Singapore and Hong Kong, revenue of some spices produced by American companies MDH and Tibet were suspended last month.

That’s not all. According to a FDA spokesperson, the US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) is also looking into products made by the two well-known brands for potential pesticide traces. An analysis of US regulatory data by the news agency revealed that since 2021, an average of 14.5 % of MDH spices shipments have been turned down because of the presence of bacteria. Both companies make sure their goods are secure.

The European Union ( EU) has raised similar concerns after discovering the same cancer-causing element in Indian samples of pepper and chili peppers. Studies say that the Islands, Bangladesh and American food regulators have even launched investigations.


Spices, herbs and curry powders on display at Anjuna Beach Flea Market, Goa, India.

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India: World spice superstar

  • India exports nearly$ 4bn worth of spices, accounting for 12 % of global spice exports

  • Big spices exported include pepper powder, cumin, turmeric, lemongrass and mingled spice

  • Another significant exports include asafoetida, basil, fennel, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon

  • The biggest industry for American flavors are China, the US, and Bangladesh.

  • Another important areas include the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UK, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong

( Source: Spices Board, Global Trade Research Initiative )


Obviously, it is a troubling growth. For one, both the names are well-known and reliable. Delhi- based MDH, an classic 105- season- old family- run company, offers a range of more than 60 combined and ground spices. The 57- yr- ancient Everest Food Products, launched by a spice trader, claims to get India’s “largest manufacturer of natural and integrated spices”, exporting to over 80 countries. Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood giants, have served as Everest’s company ambassadors.

To be sure, this is not the first moment American ingredients have been found to become contaminated. In 2014, Ipsita Mazumdar, a biology professional, tested common spice manufacturers in Kolkata which made chilli, cinnamon, cake flour, and garam masala. She discovered lead in the food coloring that gives the spices ‘ vibrant red or orange hues. More than 60 000 kg of spice powder, including coriander power, turmeric, and pickle masala, were recently seized by Gujarat’s food and drug control authorities in April.

A view of the logo of MDH, an Indian spice manufacturing company, on a shop in the old quarters of Delhi, India, May 3, 2024.


So are Indian spices safe? Every state government has been given the mandate to conduct quality checks by the federal government. Exporters are required to check for the use of ethylene oxide under the guidance of the Spices Board, which has five quality evaluation labs. Samples are being tested by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ( FSSAI ).

India’s health ministry claims the country has one of the world’s strictest Maximum Residue Limits ( MRLs ) standards, with pesticides ‘ MRLs varying by food commodity and determined through rigorous risk assessments. But something is clearly amiss: in 2022, the FDA highlighted inadequate sanitary facilities, accommodation, and equipment cleanliness standards at a premier Indian spice plant.

” India has been a spice exporter for centuries. But this image has been declining in the last few years, with the government’s inadequate attention. We’re not yet certain what stage the contamination is taking place. Ethylene oxide is not used by farmers. It is most probably a post- harvest, post- processing residue”, says Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent researcher and environmental justice activist.

” It is not only the negative attention. Repeated instances of excessive residue accumulation can have a long-term impact. In the past, mango exports to the US suffered for years due to pesticide residues”, Mr Reddy adds.

Global Trade Research Initiative, a Delhi-based think tank, believes that” cascading regulatory actions in many countries” could result in the recent quality concerns threatening half of India’s spice exports.

If China questions the quality of Indian spices, over half of India’s global exports could be affected, joining five other countries, the GTRI said in a recent report. ” The situation could get worse if the EU follows suit, which consistently rejects Indian spice consignments due to quality issues.”

The origin of the spices in western cuisine is still a mystery to those who love them.

” I do n’t believe that the majority of people are aware of the origins of their spices. I certainly do n’t, and I use spices a lot! I live a few blocks from Chicago’s main Indian shopping district, Devon Avenue, which is where I buy my spice. I assume they are from India, but I have never considered this,” said author Colleen Taylor Sen.

In the end, experts say, India must fundamentally overhaul its approach to food safety, prioritising transparency, stringent enforcement and clear communication to safeguard the integrity of its exports.

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