Major food manufacturers are revamping their packaging amid concerns over the long term health hazards posed by mineral oils leaching from recycled cardboard into foods.
Weetabix, Kellogg's and Jordans have all taken steps to change to packaging that does not contain mineral oils, according a report from the BBC.
The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) said steps were already being taken to address the issue and that the industry regarded it seriously. The paper and board sectors were investigating ways to phase out materials containing mineral oils, CEPI managing director Teresa Presas told FoodProductionDaily.com
An opinion from the European Food Safety Authority on the matter is also due out later this year.
Recent Swiss study
The possible health threat from mineral oils - that come from inks and chemicals used in newspaper production - surfaced last year in the wake of the publication of a Swiss study.
The research by Dr Koni Grob at a government-run food safety laboratory in Zurich found that three quarters of 119 food products from a German supermarket contained mineral oils. Of these, most exceeded the European Union safe limit of 0.6mg per kilogram by more than 10 times. But products left on the shelves for longer periods could eventually exceed the limits by up to 100 times, he estimated. Mineral oils were also found to penetrate some inner linings.
Long term exposure to mineral oils has been linked to the chronic inflammation of various internal organs and cancer but consumers who eat balanced diets are not believed to be at risk, said Grob.
Newspaper-free cardboard and Kellogg's liners
The food and packaging sectors are both taking steps to address the issue, with giants Kellogg's and Weetabix altering their packaging.
“We are working with our suppliers on new packaging that allows us to meet our environmental commitments, but will also contain significantly lower levels of mineral oil,” Kellogg's told BBC radio. “We are also looking at alternative inner liners for our packets.”
Weetabix said it uses 100 per cent recycled cardboard for environmental reasons but added that it was “actively engaged with its packaging suppliers to consider alternative recycled packaging that does not contain recycled newspaper”.
The company stressed: "Our data... does indicate that none of our products pose a risk to consumer health".
Cereal company Jordans denied it had changed its packaging as result of Grob’s research but acknowledged that, like Weetabix, it was seeking to source newspaper-free recycled board.
“The latest research emerging from Switzerland on the content of recycled board is relatively new and Jordans did not change to use accredited board specifically in response to this issue,” a spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com. “However, we will be discussing improved supply of recycled board that avoids content from newspapers with the industry and our suppliers.”
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it was “not aware of any firm evidence to suggest that there are food safety risks related to mineral oils in recycled food packaging”. It said the research was interesting but incomplete.
“Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the food they produce is safe, and some have chosen to review their use of recycled packaging,” added the FSA spokesman. “The agency continues to review evidence in this area and will act to protect consumers if the evidence shows it is necessary to do so.”