On December 9, 2021, the civil society organization Foodwatch announced the publication of test results it obtained measuring the presence of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food products purchased in five European countries. Of 152 products tested, 19 of them (12.5%) were found to contain levels of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) ranging from 0.63 to 82 mg/kg of food. Products found to contain MOAH include bouillon powders, margarine, hazelnut spreads, cheese, cereal, and chocolates. It also measured the presence of mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) in 92% of tested products with concentrations ranging from 0.5 to 140 mg/kg.
Given the findings, Foodwatch has set up a petition and is calling on the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and leaders of EU Member States to recall all products tested with a measurable level of MOAH. In addition, it demands the EU adopt a zero-tolerance rule for all food categories prohibiting any detectable level of MOAH in foods.
MOH can be unintentionally present in foods due to a wide range of sources. Food packaging made of paper and board is especially known to often contain high levels of these compounds, which originate from mineral-oil-based, non-food grade newspaper inks. Mineral oil mixtures can have varying levels of toxicity, with MOAH being the most toxic fraction due to its mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. MOH have also been identified as potential endocrine disruptors. Levels of MOH have been monitored in food packaging in the EU since 2017 (FPF reported), in Switzerland the use of recycled paper in food contact materials (FCMs) is banned due to concerns about MOH contamination, and in Germany a specific migration limit of 0.5 mg/kg food for MOAH has been recommended (FPF reported). However, a legally binding threshold limit for MOH has only been set in Europe for infant formula.
Foodwatch (December 9, 2021). “No toxic mineral oil in our food!”
Foodwatch (December 2021). “Toxic mineral oil in food: Laboratory tests 2021.” (pdf)