Food contamination by substances contained in cases or cardboard boxes has now been proven. The presence of mineral oils has been exposed in a wide array of foodstuffs. Such oils are in fact capable of being contaminated at any point in the transformation or supply chain. The product groups most prone to contamination by these substances include cereals, rice, flours and pasta.

The studies conducted

  • 2010, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BRF).
  • Food contamination by substances present in cases or in cardboard boxes, associated with a plastic bag, was brought to light by a study conducted by Germany's BRF Agency. The findings from this study were addressed in a paper published in 2013 (Biedermann et al., 2013). The implicated substances originated from recycled fibers and were used to package dried produce.
  • In October 2015, during a press conference, the FoodWatch organization notified public authorities of possible contamination from some food categories by mineral oils stemming primarily from recycled paper and cardboard.

Recommendation from EFSA - European Food Safety Authority

The family of mineral oils is extensive, comprising aromatic hydrocarbons and saturated hydrocarbons. The actual mineral oil fraction is basically composed of complex hydrocarbon mixes (between 10 and 35 carbon atoms) of fossil origin. Two categories of these compounds have been identified as part of the contamination phenomena, namely: MOAH (Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons), and MOSH (Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons).

These compounds are capable of migrating into food, depending on the type of packaging used (with reference to primary packaging).

Given that no regulation currently exists regarding the acceptable quantities of these oils in food products, the EFSA drew up in June 2012 a set of recommendations based on a maximum daily dosage (MDD) of 0.01 mg/kg of body weight, yielding a limit of 0.6 mg/kg of food intake.

To establish such limits or implement appropriate analytical methods, it is essential to fully understand the phenomena at work and, hence, deploy adapted control tools (e.g. predictive tool) in order to design safe packaging.

The research conducted by LNE

Indirect food contamination due to mineral oils has given rise to a body of research that proposes a simplified predictive model independent of the solution present.

Within the scope of these works, abacuses dedicated to iso-contamination / time / temperature / molecular weight have been built based on experimental results obtained for a range of packaging temperatures and a given type of plastic film.

This effort, led by LNE researchers in conjunction with the PropackFood network, has given rise to a scientific article published in Food Additives & Contaminants.

Beginning with a known initial concentration of a solution in a material, this research has been aimed at predicting the transfer time at a given temperature, thereby correlating results with actual use conditions (i.e. product life cycle, storage temperature).

Food processing industries and retailers have raised many queries regarding this phenomenon of food contamination by mineral oils. Vigilance is of the utmost importance, and they have been advised to evaluate the risk of product contamination within the manufacturing and supply chains.

The set of simulation / prediction tools developed during partner-based research programs have enabled industry actors to assess product contamination by these substances as of the material design phase.


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