Copyright unbearbeitetes Bild: iStock/ribeirorocha

Mineral oil in foods

Many everyday foods are contaminated with harmful mineral oil hydrocarbons.

What is the problem?

Pasta, stock cubes, cereals, chocolate: many everyday foods are contaminated with harmful mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOSH and MOAH). Some of these substances accumulate in the human body, and others are potentially mutagenic and carcinogenic (MOAH).

Contamination with mineral oils can occur at any stage of food processing: it can come in during harvest, in the processing steps or even via the packaging. A common source of contamination is packaging made from recycled waste paper. These often use printing inks which contain mineral oil and up to 200 other chemical substances of known and unknown toxicological concern. The problem of the transition of mineral oils from recycled cardboard packaging into food has been known since the 1990s. In the meantime, a large number of other sources of contamination have become clear.

However, to date there is no zero-tolerance level in place that protects consumers from mineral oil in food.

What is the solution?

Strict zero-tolerance limits for MOSH and MOAH in food: A regulation at the European level is needed for establishing zero-tolerance limits for MOSH and MOAH in food. These limit values must be low enough to ensure that no contamination of food with potentially carcinogenic “mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons” (MOAH) is detectable using the most advanced methods of laboratory analysis. Food packaging must not release mineral oils or other harmful substances into the food. A "functional barrier" must be prescribed for cardboard packaging.

What is foodwatch doing?

foodwatch carried out laboratory tests in 2015, 2019 and again in 2021 to demonstrate the widespread occurrence of the harmful substances in various products. Over 100 products were found to be contaminated with MOAH, which is potentially carcinogenic. foodwatch organised several email campaigns targeting the European Commission and EU member states. 

As a result, the EU has agreed to restrict mineral oils in all foodstuffs. It is a crucial step for food safety, but not sufficient enough: A binding regulation must ensure no detectable MOAH in any foodstuffs in the EU.