Guest article

Mineral oil components in food and food packaging

Dr. Monika Tönnießen

‘Food safety is one of the key topics of the food and related industries. Paper and cardboard, for example, constitute two significant food packaging materials.

In the last few years, however, migration concerns have evolved across the industry. Particularly, the migration of mineral oil components from the packaging into food is a major topic.

In my job as product safety manager I deal with customer inquiries on a daily basis. Food contact related questions are the order of the day.

According to the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) report “Scientific Opinion on Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons in Food”, there are several sources for contamination of food through mineral oil components. Meanwhile, it has become common knowledge that jute bags, in which foodstuff like cacao is transported, are treated with mineral oil. Due to this, products such as chocolate might be contaminated with mineral oil even before they are packed.

What adds to the difficulty is mineral oil does not equal mineral oil. The MOAH (Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons), for example, are supposed to be a particularly hazardous fraction. It is suspected this composition contains substances that have carcinogenic and/or mutagenic effects. Due to the fact the fraction of MOAH contains various substances, however, it is impossible to conduct a toxicological evaluation of each component.

Possibilities to prevent contamination and the path ahead

Are there possibilities to prevent the migration of mineral oil into food? In general, I think the utmost importance should be given to a reduction of possible contamination sources, e.g. to abandon critical mineral oil components in adhesives. As these components cannot be completely removed from e.g. the paper recycling process, the introduction of an efficient barrier for food packaging is one appropriate answer.

The legal framework is increasingly focusing on mineral oil components, too. Currently, the third draft of the so-called “Deutsche Mineralölverordnung” (German mineral oil regulation) is at hand. However, three issues must be noted. First, it is still a draft and not an applicable law. Second, it is a national regulation and not a European one. Third, the regulation solely refers to mineral oil residues in recycled paper. Other sources as well as adhesives, for example, are not considered within this regulation.’

Dr. Monika Tönnießen works in the product safety department of Henkel’s Adhesive Technologies division and is a member of the Paper & Packaging Group of the European Adhesive Association FEICA.

Henkel has a webinar “Everything you need to know about mineral oil components in food packaging adhesives” as part of its Food Safe Packaging Academy on Friday, December 5, 10am CEST.

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