Ethylene oxide has recognized disinfectant and disinfectant properties against bacteria, fungi and viruses and for this reason it is always widely used in the chemical industry. It is largely used to sterilize materials and instruments used in surgery and for medical devices, but it is not allowed for food use in Europe.
Ethylene oxide is not allowed in food in Europe.
It has not always been like that. Initially, it was used as a pest control in the food sector, to decontaminate from parasites the silos used for food storage, but its use was subsequently banned in Europe due to the risks from its toxicity; it is not even approved as an active substance in plant protection products in the Union. Ethylene oxide is classified in fact as a category 1B mutagen, carcinogen and toxic compound for reproduction, according to Reg. (EC) 1272/2008.
As of September 2020, the European RASFF system has notified the entry of multiple batches of sesame seeds contaminated with ethylene oxide in European countries. Contaminated food came from India mainly, where treatment with ethylene oxide is allowed, unlike Europe. Ethylene oxide concentration in alerted foods exceeded up to over 1000 times the maximum residue limit allowed in the European Union, resulting in a massive product recall given its toxicity. See Safety HUD for the complete list of alerts and notified products.
Ethylene oxide is regulated in food by Reg. (EC) 396/2005, which defines it as the sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloro-ethanol (a related product of its) expressed in ethylene oxide, and for sesame seeds the limit is 0.05 mg/kg.
As a reliable partner for food manufacturers, Mérieux NutriSciences provides the accredited analysis of ethylene oxide and 2-chloro-ethanol in sesame seeds and related products in full compliance with Reg. (EC) 396/2005.