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Why are certain foods in Norway being pulled from shelves? 

Frazer Norwell
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Why are certain foods in Norway being pulled from shelves? 
You can check out the list of products that are being recalled. Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi on Unsplash "

A number of foods, from ice cream to liver pâté and sardines in Norway, are being recalled because they contain a banned toxic substance.


What's happened? 

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has recalled several everyday food items in Norway because they contain the illegal, carcinogenic and toxic pesticide ethylene oxide. 

Ethylene oxide is a strong disinfectant used to remove bacteria from products during cultivation.

The substance has been found in products containing the additive locust bean gum. 

Locust bean gum, the additive that has become contaminated, does not typically contain the banned pesticide and is a taste-neutral, gluten-free additive used to bind products and make them thicker. 

The batches of the additive containing ethylene oxide have probably come from Turkey, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has said.

Why have the products been pulled? 

The products have been pulled because ethylene oxide is banned for use in food products in the EU and European Economic Area, or EEA, (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). As Norway is a member of the EEA, the products have been recalled. 


Which foods have been withdrawn?

Some of the foods that have been withdrawn from sale include J&M and coop bearnaise sauce, Twix and Snickers ice cream, El Dorado potato gratin, King Oscar sardines, various noodle products and pâté products from Orkla foods. You can take a look at the complete list of products here.

"It is a relatively large amount of products, as this additive is included in everyday foods," Vigdis Jenderå, a Norwegian Food Safety Authority senior inspector, told state broadcaster NRK

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority said it is unsure how long products contaminated with ethylene oxide have been on Norwegian shelves. 

READ ALSO: Five Norwegian foods that aren’t as bad as they sound… and one that is

How dangerous is this? 

Being carcinogenic, the intake of ethylene oxide increases the risk of developing cancer over time. 

"Ethylene oxide can damage DNA, i.e. genes and genetic material, and is carcinogenic. In addition, the intake of the drug can over time increase the risk of developing cancer," Helle Katrine Knutsen, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, explained to NRK. 

However, the risk of developing cancer due to consuming products contaminated with the pesticide in Norway is assumed to be extremely low. 


"The intake here can be assumed to be short-lived. Therefore, a possible increase in cancer risk as a result of this can be assumed to be low but cannot be quantified," Knutsen said. 

In addition, despite being toxic, ethylene oxide is not acutely so. In practice, this means that if you were to consume the contaminated products unknowingly, it wouldn't pose a health risk in the short term. 

Has this happened before? 

This isn't the first time that the carcinogenic substance has been found in Norwegian foods. 

Last year, there was a significant withdrawal of products that contained sesame seeds from India which had been sprayed with the pesticide. 

This lead to tighter rules on the importation of sesame seeds into the EU and EEA. 

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority said that the increased use of ethylene oxide in farming is becoming a concern. 


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