Mineral oil hydrocarbons in food are “potential health concern,” warns EFSA
16 Mar 2023 --- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provisionally concluded that mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) do not pose a health concern to humans. They also confirmed that some substances in the group known as mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) are a possible health concern.
These are some of the conclusions of a draft scientific opinion launched for public consultation and updated EFSA’s previous risk assessment of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food.
Mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) comprise various chemical compounds obtained mainly from petroleum distillation and refining. They are categorized into two main groups: MOSH and MOAH.
“For MOSH, adverse effects on the liver were observed in a specific rat species, but the evidence suggests that these effects are irrelevant for humans. Therefore, we were able to rule out a risk for public health,” explains James Kevin Chipman, chair of the working group on mineral oil hydrocarbons.
Experts also looked at two different types of MOAH, concluding for one that it may contain genotoxic substances that can damage DNA in cells and may cause cancer. For genotoxins like these, it is not possible to establish a safe level.
Little information is available on the occurrence of MOAH in food, so experts worked on two different predictive scenarios, both of which indicated a possible health concern using a margin of exposure approach.
Mineral oil hydrocarbons in food
MOH can enter food in many ways, such as through environmental contamination, use of lubricants for machinery, release agents, processing aids, food or feed additives and migration from food contact materials.
They have been found in various foods, which typically contain higher levels of MOSH than MOAH.
The highest levels of MOH were found in vegetable oils and the highest exposure was estimated for young people, especially infants fed exclusively with infant formula containing high levels of MOSH.
Infant nutrition has previously been scrutinized for its quality standards and safety measures. Besides microbiology, toxic elements such as pesticides and other contaminants are a sector-wide top priority to ensure high-quality products for the world’s most vulnerable consumers.
More research needed
Experts recommended that more research be done to quantify the presence of MOAH in food and that toxicity data be collected to assess their risks better.
For MOSH, it is important to keep studying the possible long-term effects on human health, stresses EFSA.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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