Ethylene oxide (ETO) is a flammable, colourless gas at temperatures above 51.3 F (10.7 C). When used directly in the gaseous form or in nonexplosive gaseous mixtures with nitrogen or carbon dioxide, ETO serves as a disinfectant, fumigant, sterilizing agent, and insecticide. The major use of ETO is the sterilization of medical equipment. ETO is also used to reduce microbial contamination in a post-harvest stage in plant products including spices, 2-Chloroethanol or ECH is the degraded product of ETO.
ETO has also been reported to be produced from natural sources. In certain plants, ethylene (a natural plant growth regulator) is degraded to ethylene oxide. It is also a product of ethylene catabolism in certain microorganisms. ETO is also generated from water-logged soil, manure and sewage sludge. Quantitative estimates of production from these natural sources are not studied much. But emissions are expected to be negligible.
The current EU legislation regulating residues of ethylene oxide (sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol expressed as ethylene oxide) is Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/868, which sets the MRL (Maximum Residue Level) for the sum of ETO and ECH in herbs and spices.
The use of ETO for the sterilization of foodstuffs within the EU as well as the import of foodstuffs containing residues of ETO and ECH above the MRLs into the EU is illegal.
Applications of biocidal products containing ethylene oxide are allowed for disinfection in the EU but without food contact.
Exporters of spices to the EU are encouraged to use alternate methods of sterilization as suitable.
Exporters of spices are advised to adhere to the following guidelines in processing of spices to reduce/eliminate microbial contamination in spices.
Incoming material requirements:
Measures to prevent cross contamination:
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