FILE PHOTO: A man adjusts the spice boxes of MDH and Everest on the shelf of a shop at a market in New Delhi, India, April 29, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo Image Credit: REUTERS

Hyderabad: Britain's food watchdog has applied extra control measures on all spice imports from India, it said on Wednesday, becoming the first to ramp up scrutiny of all Indian spices after contamination allegations against two brands sparked concerns among global food regulators.

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Hong Kong last month suspended sales of three spice blends produced by MDH and one by Everest, saying they contained high levels of a cancer-causing pesticide ethylene oxide.

Singapore also ordered a recall of the Everest mix, and New Zealand, the United States, India and Australia have since said they are looking into issues related to the two brands.

MDH and Everest - two of India's most popular brands - have said their products are safe for consumption.

In the most stringent crackdown so far impacting all Indian spices, the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that in light of the concerns it has "applied extra control measures for pesticide residues in spices from India which includes ethylene oxide".

The agency did not elaborate on the exact steps it is taking.

"The use of ethylene oxide is not allowed here and maximum residue levels are in place for herbs and spices," James Cooper, Deputy Director of Food Policy at the FSA, said in a statement to Reuters.

"If there is any unsafe food or food on the market, the FSA will take rapid action to ensure consumers are protected." India's Spices Board, which regulates exports, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

India is the biggest exporter, consumer and producer of spices in the world.

In 2022 Britain imported $128 million worth of spices, with India accounting for almost $23 million, data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity website shows.

MDH and Everest export their products to many regions including the U.S., Europe, South East Asia, Middle East and Australia.

Who are the two iconic Indian spice brands under scrutiny

For decades, India's spice makers MDH and Everest have been ubiquitous in kitchens around the world with their products being essential ingredients in chicken and fish curries and vegetable dishes. A Hong Kong sales ban on some of their products after a cancer-causing pesticide was found has triggered a wave of scrutiny, including in the United States, the Maldives, India and Australia. Both brands say their products are safe.

Here are some facts and background on the two brands:

FILE PHOTO: A man stands near the spice boxes of MDH and Everest kept on the shelf of a shop at a market in New Delhi, India, April 29, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo Image Credit: REUTERS

Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH)

New Delhi-based MDH started in 1919 and is a family-run business.

It rose to popularity with ads and packaging featuring its founder Dharampal Gulati who sported a handlebar moustache and a turban. Gulati, often dubbed as India's "Spice King", died in 2020.

MDH's website says it has 62 products. It deals in grounded spices, as well as spice blends which were created after "decades of research".

MDH has five factories and its products are sold in India and markets such as Australia, the United States, Europe, Canada and the United Kingdom through a network of more than 400,000 retail dealers.

MDH's revenue for 2022-2023 stood at $260 million.


Everest Food Products started in 1967 with three products.

Its founder Vadilal Bhai Shah started his business from a small 200 square feet spice shop.

With 52 products, Everest today has global presence in around 80 countries, including in North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and Africa.

Some 20 million households use Everest products every day and 3.7 billion packs of its products are sold each year, according to its website. Around 620,000 outlets sell Everest products in 1,000 small towns and cities of India.

India's Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are Everest brand ambassadors, appearing together in many TV commercials to promote its products, especially those to make the famous rice dish, biryani.

Everest's net sales for 2022-23 stood at $365 million.