Ethylene oxide is an active ingredient in crop protection products that is not permitted in the EU and has been used to disinfect spices, among other things. In Germany, its use in the food sector has been prohibited since 1981, as both ethylene oxide and its degradation product 2-chloroethanol are classified as toxic and mutagenic. Foodstuffs containing residues of ethylene oxide must therefore be classified as unsafe for health.
In the European Rapid Alert System numerous warnings with positive findings in sesame seeds have been found since 09.09.2020. The background is that ethylene oxide is very suitable for antimicrobial treatment and is also approved for the US market, for example. Since ethylene oxide has not been included in routine tests to date, the problem may have existed for some time.
Due to the toxicity and mutagenicity of the substance, the EU Commission decided in a meeting on 09.10.2020 that sesame seeds and goods produced from them should also be directly withdrawn or recalled from the market if the maximum residue level of 0.05 mg/kg for ethylene oxide in sesame seeds (sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol, expressed as ethylene oxide) is exceeded.