• Open Access

Scientific Opinion on Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons in Food


  • EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM)

  • Panel members: Jan Alexander, Diane Benford, Alan Raymond Boobis, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Alessandro Di Domenico, Daniel Doerge, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Metka Filipič, Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Peter Fürst, Thierry Guérin, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Miroslav Machala, Antonio Mutti, Martin Rose, Josef Rudolf Schlatter and Rolaf van Leeuwen.
  • Correspondence: contam@efsa.europa.eu
  • Acknowledgement: The CONTAM Panel wishes to thank the members of the CONTAM Working Group on Mineral hydrocarbons in Food for the preparation of this opinion: Jan Alexander, Jan Beens, Alan Boobis, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Koni Grob, Thierry Guérin, Unni Cecilie Nygaard, Karla Pfaff, Shirley Price, and Paul Tobback. For the support on the sections relevant to the occurrence of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food contact materials and exposure from foods packed in recycled paper, the CONTAM Panel wishes to thank the EFSA Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF Panel): Ulla Beckman Sundh, Mona-Lise Binderup, Leon Brimer, Laurence Castle, Karl-Heinz Engel, Roland Franz, Nathalie Gontard, Rainer Gürtler, Trine Husøy, Klaus-Dieter Jany, Catherine Leclercq, Jean-Claude Lhuguenot, Wim Mennes, Maria Rosaria Milana, Iona Pratt, Kettil Svensson, Fidel Toldrá, Detlef Wölfle,
  • Adoption date: 3 May 2012
  • Published date: 6 June 2012
  • Question number: EFSA-Q-2010-00170
  • On request from: European Commission


Consumers are exposed to a range of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) via food. Mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) consist of linear and branched alkanes, and alkyl-substituted cyclo-alkanes, whilst mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) include mainly alkyl-substituted polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Products, commonly specified according to their physico-chemical properties, may differ in chemical composition depending on the oil source. Technical grade MOH contain 15 - 35 % MOAH, which is minimised in food grade MOSH (white oils). Major sources of MOH in food are food packaging and additives, processing aids, and lubricants. Estimated MOSH exposure ranged from 0.03 to 0.3 mg/kg b.w. per day, with higher exposure in children. Specific production practices of bread and grains may provide additional MOSH exposure. Except for white oils, exposure to MOAH is about 20 % of that of MOSH. Absorption of alkanes with carbon number above C35 is negligible. Branched and cyclic alkanes are less efficiently oxidised than n-alkanes. MOSH from C16 to C35 may accumulate and cause microgranulomas in several tissues including lymph nodes, spleen and liver. Hepatic microgranulomas associated with inflammation in Fischer 344 rats were considered the critical effect. The no-observed-adverse-effect level for induction of liver microgranulomas by the most potent MOSH, 19 mg/kg b.w. per day, was used as a Reference Point for calculating margins of exposure (MOEs) for background MOSH exposure. MOEs ranged from 59 to 680. Hence, background exposure to MOSH via food in Europe was considered of potential concern. Foodborne MOAH with three or more, non- or simple-alkylated, aromatic rings may be mutagenic and carcinogenic, and therefore of potential concern. Revision of the existing acceptable daily intake for some food grade MOSH is warranted on the basis of new toxicological information.