Mineral oil transfer to food - Strategies for preventing the migration of MOSH/MOAH

Reinhard Matissek

Mineral oils are widely found in the environment. Their components can migrate not only into plant-, but also into animal-based food via various different ways. They are comprised mainly of mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and to a lesser degree of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH). Both are easily absorbed into the body from food and can accumulate in the body’s fat cells and in some organs. Animal tests form the basis of toxicological assessments, because currently there are no studies on the effects of MOSH and MOAH on humans. According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung – BfR), the intake of MOAH should be avoided altogether since it cannot be ruled out that this fraction contains carcinogenic compounds.

The main route of entry of mineral oil components into foods is not caused by the food manufacturers themselves. Among other things, it has been determined that MOSH/MOAH migrates from packaging made from recycled waste paper, and it would be helpful if, for example, newspaper publishers also used mineral oil-free printing ink in order to prevent this. But in addition to packaging material, there are many other routes of entry which have already been identified as well as putative ones which have not yet been studied. Current research programmes are attempting to identify them. In view of the fact that mineral oil components are widely found in the environment, that there are many different ways in which MOSH and MOAH can get into
foods, the sophisticated analytic methods and the number of players involved, the topic is very complex and the challenges are numerous and great.

The transfer of mineral oil components into foods is a topic that the food industry is taking very seriously. A joint effort by all the members of the value chain – from the farming sector to the raw materials trade, the transportation sector, the food, packaging and printing ink industry, including newspaper publishers, all the way through to the food trade and consumers – is being initiated by the German Federation for Food Law and Food Science (Bund für Lebensmittelrecht und Lebensmittelkunde – BLL) in order to minimise and prevent the migration of mineral oil components into food. Together with the packaging and printing ink industry, as well as with all the other members of the value chain, food manufacturers are looking for ways to avoid and minimise the migration of mineral oil components into food – but it takes time. In the summer of 2013, the Association of the German Confectionery Industry (Bundesverband der Deutschen Süßwarenindustrie – BDSI) launched a cross-sectional minimisation initiative for its own sector and invested about half a million Euro in state-of-the-art laboratory equipment for its own Food Chemistry Institute (Lebensmittelchemisches Institut – LCI). The main objective is to minimise and prevent the transfer of mineral oil components to confectionery and savoury snacks and to develop safe and reliable analytic methods.

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