Food safety expert calls for pragmatic response to risks of co-contaminants in edible oils

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09 Oct 2017 --- Ever since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a report earlier this year warning about the health consequences of co-contaminants in edible oils, Roger Clemens, DrPH, FIFT, CFS, FASN, FACN, CNS, FIAFST, has called for a pragmatic response to this issue. Clemens, a recognized expert on dietary lipids and health, presented his assessment of the situation during the 10th Global Oils & Fats Forum (GOFF), held October 4, 2017, in Washington, DC. 

Clemens is an Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences within the USC School of Pharmacy, International Center for Regulatory Science. He spoke specifically about 3-MCPD (3-monochloropropane1,2 diol) and GE (Glycidyl Esters), which are food processing contaminants classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possible human carcinogens. “This issue is as much about what we do not know, as it is about what we do know,” he says. His presentation included a focus on palm oil, which has an increasingly important role in the US food supply as a trans fatty acid replacement. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Clemens (pictured) says: “The 2016 EFSA fueled the consumers’ concerns about processed foods andClick to Enlarge food ingredients.  In North America, the report did not stimulate any consumer or regulatory response.  The FDA addressed the question of potential contaminants in some soy-based products several years ago.  However, there is a call for an assessment of the food supply in North America regarding potential contaminants, such as chloropropanols, in all edible oils. At this time, it is important for the edible oil industry to reexamine its processing conditions to establish a baseline of chloropropanols in their respective products, mitigate the unintentional production of chloropropanols in their products, and  develop appropriate consumer communications.”
 
“The production of palm oil among manufacturers in Malaysia is more proactive than other international producers.  The Malaysia-based industry has been aggressive in: significantly reducing chloropropanols in its product through modern technologies, assuring social and environment responsibility in palm oil production, and leveraging the science behind many healthful components of palm oil,” explains  Clemens. 
 
“The Malaysian palm oil industry, in collaboration with international experts, is actively pursuing patentable technologies and processes to reduce chloropropanols in its product,” he notes. “The important sustainability efforts include Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certifications.  These sustainability efforts are directed to assure that the production and cultivation of palm oil does not contribute to the degradation of land, excessive use of water, and disruption or abuse of local environmental dynamics.  Some of those healthful components are tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E, which may be important in heart health, bone health and immune health.”
 
What is 3-MCPD? 
3-MCPD esters are produced as artifacts during the processing and refining of all edible oils including palm oil. Their removal from the final refined oil is dependent upon several established and novel processes. These steps are designed to remove unwanted constituents. 3-MCPDs have been detected in all edible oils and fats, but relatively higher levels have been reported in palm oil (~2.9 ppm).
 
At issue: 3-MCPD has an established Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 2 ug/kg body weight. This TDI level is also supported by the FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. Thus, the esters of 3-MCPD are of toxicological concern for humans, yet some reports indicate 3-MCPD is low risk. Several regulatory agencies and health authorities call for monitoring 3-MCPD levels in the food supply and recommend a reduction or elimination of 3-MCPD and related chloropropanols from the food supply. 
 
Clemens noted that while 3-MCPD was found to be carcinogenic to small animals, no direct human toxicology data are available. “Several investigators have noted toxicological data gaps and call for further research. Thus, there is a need for additional research that assesses potential effects of 3-MCPD on human health when consumed as typical levels over a lifespan.”
 
Presentation will tackle key issues and questions facing the edible oil industry 
In addition to describing the current regulatory environment during his GOFF presentation, Clemens also discussed the mitigation actions taken by industry. “This requires a complete understanding of how these compounds are formed. For example, the data indicate that fewer 3-MCPD compounds are present in Malaysian palm oil than that which is processed outside of Malaysia,” he states. 
 
“This observation indicates the need for a better grasp of the palm oil process variances among countries. There is a need to carefully evaluate each step and identify the conditions under which the contaminants, such as 3-MCPD and related chloropropanols are generated. There are some data, for example, that indicates the timing of the harvest and pressing, as well as processing temperature and water supply, can significantly affect the generation and subsequent levels of these contaminants.”
 
Current and recommended strategies
Clemens touched on results of the 66 pilot trials, funded by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, on refining the different treatments. “The trials, conducted from 2010 through 2015, found that acid degumming followed by bleaching causes the formation of 3-MCPD esters in bleached oils. High deodorization temperature also led to the high formation of esters. Just as the change from thermal to non-thermal processing has created significant opportunities for many food types, I suspect that similar processing advances will materialize relative to all edible oils,” he reveals. 
 
“We need to invoke and apply scientific imagination and technical expertise to mitigate contaminants in edible oil,” he confirms. “As important, we must develop communications strategies that demonstrate a commitment to public health and environmental forethought. It’s imperative that the food industry own the real and perceived issues, and leverage the solutions before they are put into a defensive posture that may damage their image and profits.”

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