The state of play of the activities of the European Commission on mineral oil hydrocarbons in food (remote presentation)
Veerle Vanheusden, PhD, Policy officer - Unit E2 – Food processing and novel food, Directorate General Health and Food Safety, European Commission

Mineral oil hydrocarons (MOHs) are chemical compounds derived mainly from crude oil, but also produced synthetically from coal, natural gas and biomass. They can contaminate food at various stages of the production chain and via the transfer from food contact materials. These contaminations are avoidable by following good practices. In 2023 the European Food Safety Authority updated its risk assessment on MOHs in food and concluded that the current exposure to mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) does not raise a health concern. Because the margin for a safe exposure to MOSH is limited, this conclusion might change, when mitigation measures would be dropped. As mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) show genotoxic and carcinogenic properties, the current exposure to MOAH would raise health concerns. Following this assessment 3 legal proposals are under discussion in the EU:

-a Regulation on maximum levels for MOAH in food

-a Recommendation on the monitoring of MOSH and MOAH in food and the application of mitigation measures. These recommendations will be supported by indicative levels. When the concentrations of MOHs exceed these ILs, investigations should be carried out towards the causes of the contamination and mitigation measures should be applied.

-a Regulation on the methods for the sampling and analysis of MOHs in food.

Pending the adoption of these measures, the EU Member States already started enforcing quantities of MOAH in food at or above the following limits of quantification:

-0.5 mg/kg for dry foods with a low fat/oil content (≤ 4% fat/oil)

-1 mg/kg for foods with a higher fat/oil content (> 4% fat/oil, ≤50% fat/oil)

-2 mg/kg for fats/ oils or foods with >50% fat/oil.

EU Member States agreed on the basis of Article 14 of the General Food Law (Reg. (EC) No 178/2002) to withdraw and, if necessary, to recall products from the market, when the concentrations of MOAH exceed these limits, because food shall not be placed on the market, if it is unsafe.