Following a string of recalls in recent years caused by ethylene oxide, the European Commission (EC) has classified ethylene oxide as a pesticide and the chemical will be subject to mandatory testing.
Ethylene oxide is a chemical substance with many applications, such for the sterilization of raw materials in food production. However, the substance has been identified as a carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reproductive toxin.
From 2023–2026, EU Member States must randomly collect and analyze samples of certain foods for the presence of ethylene oxide, specifically:
- In 2023: dried beans, rye, and rice
- In 2024: wheat
- In 2025: barley and oats
- In 2026: dried beans, rye, and brown rice.
Each August, Member States are required to provide sampling data for the previous calendar year.
In 2022, the EC clarified that the presence of ethylene oxide, irrespective of its origin, is not authorized for all food additives. The EC also set a limit of 0.1 milligrams per kilogram for ethylene oxide, including 2-chloro-ethanol expressed as ethylene oxide, in certain additives that are treated with the substance.
Tightening restrictions on ethylene oxide follow several Rapid Alert System for Food and Food Network (RASFF) notifications regarding the presence of ethylene oxide in food products from food additives containing the substance. For instance, in 2022, sesame seeds from India were found to contain the chemical, which led to the discovery of ethylene oxide in other raw materials. The EU subsequently held several meetings regarding the situation and launched the largest series of recalls in EU history.