Ethylene oxide (EO) has a broad array of applications across many industries. One of the most important is as a fumigant pesticide for the preservation of dry food products, such as seeds, milled cereals, spices, and herbs. However, upon consumption, ethylene oxide can have significant impacts on human health, adversely affecting the nervous system and mucous membranes, and exhibiting mutagenic and carcinogenic potential. Moreover, in food, EO readily degrades into 2-chloroethanol (2CE), which is itself considered toxic.
Such health concerns have driven a spate of strict regulations on EO’s usage in food production across the globe. Most notably, EO is now banned for use in food in many countries, including all of those in the European Union (EU), where it has been banned since 1991. Currently, the EU has set maximum residue levels (MRLs) for EO at 0.02 to 0.1 mg/kg, depending on the commodity, where EO is defined as