Potentially cancerous mineral oils have been found in advent calendar chocolates including ones from Nestlé, Mondelez and Lindt, leading a consumer group to call for manufacturers and packaging firms to change packaging inks and machine lubricants.
German consumer group Stiftung Warentest analyzed 24 advent calendars available in Germany from retailers and manufacturers and found that all contained mineral oil residues from sources including recycled packaging inks and substances used to lubricate machines.
There have been no reported illnesses from mineral oils residues to date and the German Confectionery Association (BDSI) has said there is no health concern because levels are so low. For more industry reaction, see HERE.
Ina Bockhort of Stiftung Warentest was asked how the residues entered the chocolate.
“There are several ways, but the typical way is the packaging,” she said.
“…They may also come in the chocolate processes because some of the producers use mineral oils to clean their machines.”
“…It’s a worldwide problem and it can be solved if the printing industry changes its colors to ones without mineral oils and the producers check their machine oil,” she said.
She added: “We say that substances that cause cancer have nothing to do in nutrition,”
No legal limits
A European Food Safety Authority(EFSA) scientific panel said in June this year that there were two types of mineral oils: aromatic and saturated. It said that the aromatic varieties were carcinogenic, but that the saturated variety was only “a potential concern”.
No illegal limits for mineral oils currently exist.
“The problem is quite young and complex and we don’t have a legal limit. It is the job of the toxicologists to create a limit,” said Bockhort.
Most products assessed (15 out of 24) contained no aromatic mineral oils.
However, a Lindt advent calendar and a Smarties calendar from Nestlé did contain traces of the carcinogenic aromatic variety.
Products with the highest levels were from German companies Confiserie Heilemann, Arko and Rausch (whose company name translates as ‘intoxication’).
Advent calendars are particular risk
“Chocolates in advent calendars have a special risk because the product is small, the colored paper is directly on the chocolate and there is a lot of packaging,” said Bockhort.
She said it was possible that other confectionery contained residues.
EFSA’s CONTAM panel said in June that some confectionery using oils for surface treatments may contain mineral oils.
The majority of the advent calendars assessed by Stiftung Warentest used cardboard packaging and polypropylene (PP) films.
Levels and detection
Stiftung Warentest classed any product with over 3 mg of aromatic mineral oils as high in the substance and said that anything above 0.5 mg contained the aromatic variety.
No studies have been conducted to assess the level at which mineral oils become dangerous for consumers, according to the BDSI.
EFSA has said that the most effective method to detect MOH levels in food is through pre-separation by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) on-line coupled to GC with flame ionisation detection (FID).