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Fumigants – a more curse than a blessing? Are there alternatives?

The use of ethylene oxide in cereal products and spices repeatedly leads to massive recalls in the international trade.

Due to the strict requirements regarding phytosanitary import controls, fumigants are currently the only effective alternative to prevent the introduction and spread of pests from importing countries. Thus, fumigation of containers for shipment, as well as fumigation of warehouses is a common practice. The fumigants methyl bromide, ethylene oxide and phosphine are primarily used because of their effectiveness in pest control.

The use of methyl bromide as a fumigant has no longer been permitted in the EU since 2010. The use of ethylene oxide is also only possible to a limited extent due to its residue definition, which includes the metabolite 2 – chloroethanol, which in turn persists as a residue in food.


bilacon has established a method for the determination of phosphine


“We assume that for the above-mentioned reasons, other fumigants will be increasingly used in the future,” explains Roy Sperling, head of the instrumental analysis department at bilacon GmbH.

For this reason, bilacon has established a method for determining the fumigant phosphine. In this method, phosphine is determined by headspace gas chromatography with a flame photometric detector (FPD). This method is very sensitive and the detection limit is < 1μg. Turnaround time is 3-5 business days and can be offered as an express analysis upon consultation.

The maximum amount for the sum of phosphine and phosphide are between 0.01 mg/kg and 0.1 mg/kg depending on the food according to Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005.

In the following a standard with 15 ppb phosphine and a pepper sample with a phosphine content of 4ppb are shown.


standard with 15 ppb phosphine

pepper sample with a phosphine content of 4ppb

There are clear peaks that indicate the presence of phosphine in the sample.

Ensure safe food that does not exceed phosphine limits and avoid expensive recalls by having your products tested regularly at bilacon.

If you have any questions about our service, please feel free to contact us. Our expert will be glad to help you


Roy Sperling
+49 (0) 30 206 038 320



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