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June - July 2005


Sudan Red Dye Colouring in Chilli Powder


The Spice Board of India is extremely critical at the way the European Union Laboratories are analysing the Chilli Powder. The Spices Board asserts that the Chilli Powder contains a natural component called "Capsanthin" – which has a molecular structure similar to that of Sudan Red Dye and it is possible that the European Union laboratories are mistaking Capsanthin as Sudan Red.

Since Chilli powder is an important ingredient in Indian cooking, we feel the explanation of The Spices Board of India should be put before our readers. Here is what Mr CJ Jose, Chairman Spices Board of India has to say:

"Recent reports in the British Press about large-scale recall, at the instance of the Food Standard Authority, UK of food products, reportedly manufactured using chilli power ‘thought to have been’ imported from India, in 2002 has caused us immense concern, notwithstanding the fact that the alleged export took place before emergency measures were introduced some time in 2003
Approximately, 0.48% of the dry weight of chilli and therefore of chilli powder is constituted of a natural carotenoid namely ‘capsanthin’ which has a molecular structure similar to that of Sudan1 . ‘Capsanthin’ has an absorption maxima of 483 nm while Sudan 1 has an absorption maxima of 478nm and the possibilities of mistaking capsanthin as Sudan1, while being analysed through HPLC, can not be ruled out. The standard procedure for positively identifying Sudan is to spike the extract under analysis with a measured quantity of Sudan dye and to watch for an increase in the peak area.

Ever since the Sudan controversy erupted with the first Rapid Alert from France some time in May 2003, we have been voicing before the EU authorities our concern about what we consider to be unreliable test results on the basis of which some rapid alerts seem to have been issued by the EU. Our concerns became grave when we discovered that the reported presence of Sudan in many of the Rapid Alert Reports was too low to be suggestive of deliberate adulteration and in some cases the level of alleged contamination was not reported at all. Presence of Sudan I at low range ppm levels, much less at ppb levels, cannot influence the colour characteristics of chilli powder and cannot result from deliberate adulteration. On the contrary, one has to search for other causative factors when such readings are generated. Out of 16 Rapid Alerts, which originated from UK, as many as 6 do not mention the level of contamination, while 4 reported presence of Sudan in single digit ppm level ranging between ‘3ppm to 5ppm’. Three Rapid Alerts referred to alleged presence of Sudan in two digit PPMs. We even had a case of a well-known private laboratory in Italy, negating, after analysing the counter sample, the positive findings of Sudan I generated in public health Laboratory in the same country.

To verify the accuracy of Sudan analytical methods in the EU, we had sent samples drawn from the same Sudan-I injected material to two different analytical laboratories in the EU and found that there was variations in the findings of the two laboratories ranging between .03ppm to 172ppm. Current EU legislation calls for destruction of material if the analysis shows presence of Sudan at more than 5ppb, which is a fraction of the variation referred to above. Thus, quite a large number of Rapid Alerts emanating from the EU allege Sudan I at levels, which are in the range of error that can routinely occur, if adequate precautions are not taken or variations that we have seen and documented. Hence our persistent and unmet demand to refer all samples which are considered non compliant to any reputed third country laboratory within the EU itself before trade disrupting consequences are met out. We have also been requesting, without success so far, to be given a counter sample for our own analysis.

Another concern, which we have raised and which has not been addressed so far, is the inability of the rapid alert issuing authorities to provide evidence positively and exclusively linking the Indian export to the product manufactured in the EU and found to be contaminated in analysis.

These concerns apply equally to the events, which led to the recent recall of food products in UK at the instance of the FSA. The reported presence of Sudan in the recalled food products fall within the range of variation referred to in the previous paragraph.

While we have raised our concerns we have been brutally strict with those who were suspected to have deliberately indulged in mal-practices by taking away their license to export.

Notwithstanding our concerns, we respect and enforce the EU food safety requirements as they stand now, with respect to Sudan and aflatoxin and made them applicable also with respect to exports to countries, which do not have such requirements.

Since October 2003, we had introduced mandatory sampling of all consignments of chilli power/chilli products prepared for exports to any destination in the world for analysing them for presence of Sudan I. Now the consignments are also tested for the presence of Sudan-II-IV and Aflatoxin. Sophisticated equipments with detection level of 5 ppb and quantification up to 10 ppb had been procured and installed in our laboratory, which is accredited under ISO 17025.

Between the introduction of the mandatory regime in October 2003 and now, we have analysed as many as 6059 samples for Sudan and though it may sound immodest, we can claim that we have conducted more Sudan tests than the rest of the world put together. To establish the reliability of our tests, we have introduced a programme called ‘international check sample programme’ with Eurofins, Hamburg, Germany and Chemisches Unter Suchungslabor Dr. Budde, Frankfurt, Germany. We have observed that there has been 100% conformity between our findings and the findings of the external laboratories which are involved in the check sample programme. Hence our analytical reports in this regard are 100% reliable.

Thus, currently, there is a safe and foolproof system in operation to ensure that the chilli powder/chilli products exported to any country from India are free of Sudan and aflatoxin."
Any consignment of spices from India must be accompanied by a Certificate from Spices Board to the effect that they are free of Sudan and aflatoxin is within tolerable limits and therefore the consignment is fit for export to EU. Then only Port Health authorities and Customs should clear consignments of these products.

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