In a review article published on June 12, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Koni Grob from the Official Food Control Authority of the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland, reviewed scientific studies on mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food, published until about 2010, the time point “when the subject received broad publicity.” The reviewed period “covers . . . the main discoveries and elimination or reduction of the dominant sources: release agents used in industrial bakeries, spraying of rice, additions to animal feed, contamination of edible oils from various sources and migration from paperboard packaging.” The highly refined (“white”) oils were more often found to be involved, but technical oils, especially from the environment, have been detected as well. In addition, “more or less” crude oil fractions have been used in jute and sisal bags. Regarding the sources of MOH, there were “numerous unexpected” ones, and “there might still be more of those,” Grob observes.

The major research gaps that Grob outlines include “the systematic investigation of sources and the largely unavoidable levels from environmental contamination, but also in the toxicological evaluation of the various types of hydrocarbons.” Importantly, although consumer exposure has been “markedly reduced” since 2010, environmental sources may have gained in dominance since then. This is worrying because modification “by light, microorganisms, plants and/or animals” can result in the enrichment of the “species resisting metabolic elimination,” Grob explains. Further, the scientist says that the “toxicological evaluation of the past” should be revised, because “accumulation in human tissues has been grossly underestimated” (FPF reported). Further, “[t]here is insufficient information about relevant toxicological end points and potential adverse effects at these levels.”

Grob calls for a new regulation that should resolve “the present discrepancy between the low tolerance to MOH perceived as contaminants and the very high legal limits for some [food industry] applications,” because the MOH involved in both situations “are largely the same.” Grob emphasizes that the “present TDIs [(tolerable daily intake values)] are above the present exposure by 2-3 orders of magnitude . . . and authorize a corresponding increase of exposure.” This “needs to be corrected.”


Koni Grob (2018). “Mineral oil hydrocarbons in food—a review.” Food additives & Contaminants: Part A (published June 12, 2018).