EFSA has re-evaluated the risk of exposure to mineral oil hydrocarbons through food

14 September 2023

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that it has re-evaluated the risk assessment of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH), substances derived primarily from crude oil, but also from coal, gas and biomass, in food.

There are two main classifications of MOH: mineral oil-saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH). MOH can enter food as environmental contaminants, lubricants from machinery used during harvesting and food production, processing aids like release agents or dust binders, food or feed additives, and food contact materials. MOH products that are used in food are treated to minimise the MOAH content.

The main finding of its research is that it is likely to very likely (66-95% certain) that the present dietary exposure to MOSH does not raise concerns for human health. Adverse effects on the liver previously observed in laboratory rats were concluded to be of no relevance for humans, EFSA says. It is important, though, to keep studying the possible long-term effects on human health.

Further data pertaining to toxicity and exposure are necessary to complete the final risk assessment of MOAH compounds containing three or more aromatic rings. However, utilizing the approach described above, it is highly probable (99-100% certainty) for toddlers and probable (greater than 66% certainty) for individuals in other age groups that their dietary exposure to MOAH compounds with three or more aromatic rings, known for their association with DNA damage and potential cancer risk, presents a potential concern for human health.

The lack of reliable toxicity data for MOAH compounds with one to two aromatic rings also raises potential concerns.

It is noteworthy that the highest levels of MOH were detected in vegetable oils, and the demographic group with the greatest exposure was young individuals, primarily infants who consumed infant formula.

The European Commission is considering whether to establish maximum levels for MOH in specific food items. To inform this decision, the Commission mandated EFSA in 2020 to update the CONTAM Panel Scientific Opinion from 2012 on the risks to public health from MOH in food.