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Mineral hydrocarbons in food: EFSA launches consultation

Some substances belonging to this group could be harmful to human health

EFSA experts have provisionally concluded that saturated hydrocarbons of mineral oils (MOSH) do not pose a problem for human health, confirming however that some substances belonging to this group, known as aromatic hydrocarbons of mineral oils (MOAH ), can lead to problems.

These are some of the conclusions of a draft scientific opinion published yesterday for public consultation and which updates the previous EFSA assessment of the hydrocarbon risks of mineral oils in food.

Mineral oil hydrocarbons (Mohs) include a wide variety of chemical compounds obtained primarily from the distillation and refining of petroleum. They are divided into two main groups: Mosh and Moah.

“Adverse liver effects have been observed for Mosh in one specific strain of rat, but the evidence suggests that these effects are not applicable to humans. We were therefore able to rule out a risk to public health”, said James Kevin Chipman, chair of the Mineral Hydrocarbons Working Group.

The experts then examined two different types of Moah and concluded that one of them may contain genotoxic substances that could damage the DNA of cells and cause cancer. However, for genotoxins such as these it is not possible to establish a safe level.

Limited information was available on the presence of Moah in food, so the experts worked on two different predictive scenarios using the margin of exposure (MoE) approach: both indicated a possible health problem.

Mohs can contaminate food in a variety of ways: by contamination of the environment, by the use of lubricants in food manufacturing machinery, by release agents, by processing aids, food or feed additives, and by migration from materials in contact with Foods. They have been found in a variety of foods, which usually contain higher levels of Mosh than Moah. The highest levels of Moh have been found in some vegetable oils and the maximum exposure is estimated to occur in juveniles, especially if fed only baby foods containing high levels of Moh as infants.

Experts recommend conducting more research to quantify the presence of Moah in foods and collecting toxicity data to better assess the risks they pose. For the Mosh it is important to continue to study its possible long-term effects on human health.

Comments can be submitted on EFSA's website until 30 April 2023. Once finalised, the opinion will provide the European Commission and EU Member States with the scientific basis for possible risk management measures.

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EFA News - European Food Agency