EU sets limits for mineral oils in food immediately effective

For the first time, the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee) has set maximum limits for aromatic mineral oils (MOAH) in food products. The limits are effective immediately but not legally binding, and it will be up to the Member States to decide whether to enforce them.  

Food can get contaminated with MOAH, which is potentially carcinogenic and genotoxic, through not only direct contact with food packaging but also through the entire food production process, where lubricants are often used in machinery.  

In a meeting by the end of April, the PAFF Committee has agreed on the maximum limits of MOAH in foodstuffs. For dry foods with a low fat/oil content of equal to or less than 4%, the limit level is 0.5 mg/kg; for foods with a higher fat/oil content of more than 4%, 1 mg/kg of MOAH is permitted; and 2 mg/kg of MOAH is allowed for fats and oils. The European Food Safety Authority will release a revised risk assessment on mineral oils in food. After that, the limit levels will be legally binding.  

Foodwatch, an international organization campaigning for safer food, has been campaigning against the mineral-oil contamination in food since 2015. In their 2021 report on tests of 152 sample products from different EU markets, 12,5% of them were contaminated with MOAH.  

Foodwatch argues that the limits established by the PAFF Committee are too high, especially for fats and oils. They emphasise that modern technology can detect 1 mg/kg of MOAH even in plant oils. According to a spokesperson, the EU’s action is “not yet enough to fully protect European consumers. We will closely follow the EFSA risk assessment to see that it goes a step further than the statement: there should be no detectable MOAH in any foodstuff in the European Union. With carcinogenic contaminants, even a small amount is too much. Technology exists to detect low levels of MOAH – if any detection at all, the foodstuff must be taken off the shelves”.