A review article published in the peer-reviewed journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology and authored by scientists from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has revealed a lack of safety data on less refined mineral oil that consumers may be exposed to through foods. The study set out “to evaluate the potential health risks arising from oral and dermal exposures of consumers to mineral oil in food and non-food products.” Based on available data, the exposure of consumers to highly refined mineral oils was estimated, separately for the mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) fractions.

The review concluded that animal studies and long-term use have shown that the use of highly refined MOAH in cosmetic products is safe, with a lack of evidence of adverse health effects. However, safety data was found to be incomplete for less refined mineral oils, which can also contaminate foods. The authors concluded “given that MOAH in food originate from different sources, and given the lack of information on the carcinogenic potential of non-food grade mineral oils, the MOAH impurities in food should be minimized.”

Migration from paper food packaging could be contributing to the mineral oil hydrocarbon contamination of foods, as suggested by analyses carried out by Swiss authorities (FPF reported) and the Danish Consumer Council (FPF reported). The BfR has also previously published a frequently asked questions document discussing migration of mineral oil components from cardboard food packaging into food (FPF reported).


Pirow, R. et. al. (January 15, 2020). “Mineral oil in food, cosmetic products, and in products regulated by other legislations.” Critical Reviews in Toxicology; DOI: 10.1080/10408444.2019.1694862

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Chemical Watch (February 6, 2020). “BfR review alerts to data gaps for carcinogenicity of non-food-grade mineral oils.”