Major breaches of EU food safety standards for the residues of banned pesticides have been reported in the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed 2020 review.

Last year witnessed an almost fivefold increase in the number of notifications issued by the EU food safety alert agency to food manufacturers for non-compliance with maximum permissible residue levels for the pesticide ethylene oxide.

The source of these recurring breaches in ethylene oxide levels was identified by food safety authorities to be primarily coming from sesame seeds and processed sesame seed products originating in India.

Imported sesame seeds are used extensively in the EU for mixing with flour, in the manufacture of bakery goods and in seed mixes.

The report described the recall efforts of food products containing the pesticide as “unprecedented”.

Ethylene oxide

The pesticide in question - ethylene oxide - is presumed by the EU to be a carcinogen as a result of extensive animal testing.

The trend in high levels of non-compliance with the pesticide’s maximum permissible residue levels has continued into 2021, with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland issuing food recall notices for products ranging from noodles to ice-cream.

The source of recent ethylene oxide breaches has identified to have come from seeds in southeast Asia.

Turkish imports

The report also found that the fruits and vegetables category became the largest recipient of food safety breach notifications, namely due to high levels of non-compliances with food pesticide residue levels in imports of this type from Turkey through Bulgaria, an EU member.