Consumers should not alter their eating habits in light of last week’s opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the potential risks of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in foods, said UK officials.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) advised consumers not to modify what they eat because Parma-based EFSA had not identified any specific food safety concerns in its exhaustive 185-page report published 6 June.
“Although EFSA has identified potential concern from mineral oils in food, it acknowledges considerable uncertainties in assessing any potential risks," said the UK food safety watchdog. "As in the Food Standards Agency’s recent survey, today’s opinion does not identify any specific food safety concerns. The FSA is not advising consumers to change their eating habits based on the EFSA opinion.”
EFSA - potential concern
In the opinion, EFSA cautioned that background MOH exposure in packaging and food was possible cause for concern.
Recycled paperboard packaging along with some bakery goods were highlighted as potentially major sources of exposure to the wide-ranging group of chemicals.
The two main categories of mineral oils assessed as part of the opinion were ‘aromatic’ and ‘saturated’ MOHs. Recent concerns over their effects in packaging came after Swiss scientists found that MOHs from inks contained in recycled paperboard were leaching into foods.
EFSA outlined numerous sources for the presence of MOH in food, both through contamination and intentional uses in food production.
In food contact materials it underlined the key sources were recycled paper and board. Other sources are printing inks and additives used in the manufacture of plastics, such as lubricants and adhesives.
“MOH contamination of food by the use of recycled paperboard as packaging material may be a significant source of dietary exposure,” said the CONTAM panel.
They put forward a slew of possible solutions including the use of functional barriers into packaging and increasing of the recyclability of food packages by avoiding the use of materials and substances with MOH in the production of food packages.
Lubricants in can production and food wax coatings for fruit and chewing gum were also flagged up. Food additives and processing aids also contribute to levels of saturated mineral oils (MOSHs), along with release agents for bakery products, sugar products and oils for surface treatment of rice and confectionery, concluded its expert panel.
Other recommendations tabled to cut MOH exposure included the need for developing certified reference standards and that future monitoring should be more sophisticated to distinguish between aromatic and saturated MOHs.
Food groups that need to be monitored must also be outlined along with more analysis on where in the food production process contamination occurs. The latter would help in developing better monitoring programmes, it said.
No significant risk - FSA
But UK officials decided that it would continue to back advice given in December 2011 following its own evaluation of the issue that insufficient evidence existed to urge consumers to stay away from certain dried foods where higher than usual amounts of the chemicals had been discovered by Swiss researchers.
At the end of last year, Diane Benford, FSA head of the risk assessment chemical unit, told FoodProductionDaily.com that while there were “uncertainties” over the risk from MOH exposure, they had not found specific evidence that could warrant a warning over eating habits.
“There is uncertainty and there is a lot more information needed about the levels of mineral hydrocarbons people could be exposed to,” said Benford. “But based on what we currently know, we did not identify any specific food safety concerns and we feel there is no significant risk.”
Last week, the FSA vowed to review the EFSA opinion in depth and consider if further work was needed in terms of consumer protection.
It added that it had continued to work with the food and packaging industry on minerals oils in food and was aware industry players had been working to minimise the presence of the substances in food and packaging.