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Ethylene Oxide (ETO) in food in EU - Update February 2022

It cannot be excluded that 2CE is carcinogenic and genotoxic.


On January 20th, 2022, a technical meeting took place in the EU, with the participation of Experts on pesticide residues, additives and feedstuffs. The objective of the meeting was to obtain clear insight into the actual implementation by the Competent Authorities of the EU Member States of the EU harmonized approach for the management of the incident of ETO findings as agreed during the Crisis Coordinators’ meeting of 13 July 2021.

During the meeting some countries have expressed concerns about how the ethylene oxide contamination incidents are being handled. Several EU Member States highlighted the high burden of the agreed management approach as more and more products are found contaminated from different origins to the extent that it is no longer manageable and undermines the efficiency of the RASFF system. Several of them expressed their strong disagreement with the non-uniform implementation by some Member States which leads to market distortions. 
In some Member States, the approach taken was adapted over time to take into account the evolution of the situation. Concerns raised on the current approach included:
● Risk of disproportionality of the measures as the situation changed over time with more products concerned than in 2020 but also more dilution due to multiple processing steps;
● Absence of a level playing field between domestic and imported products;
● Need for more focus on imported products overall, and less sampling on the market;
● Precedent setting for future similar situations/products.
The EFSA preliminary conclusions confirmed the views expressed at the 4 October 2021 meeting, i.e., it cannot be excluded that 2CE is carcinogenic and genotoxic and, in view of these uncertainties, no safe level can be established. Additionally, the MOE (Margin of Exposure) approach should not be used for genotoxic carcinogens deliberately added to food and feed or present in food and feed due to avoidable cross contaminations, and should not be used to overrule legal requirements.
Following this meeting, the Commission will consider all the elements brought forward and consider them further in reflections about possible next steps, on which Member States will be kept informed.
Thanks to the right technologies and excellent experts, Institut Kirchhoff Berlin can quantify ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol in compliance with Reg. (EC) 396/2005 on several matrices such as vegetable seeds, bakery products and cereals, rice, nuts, pulses, seeds-based products, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, coffee, dehydrated vegetables. Our experts have extended the method’s scope to food thickeners and dairy products.

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