Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons (MOH)
Mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) comprise a diverse group of chemical compounds, derived mainly from crude oil but also produced synthetically from coal, natural gas and biomass.
Food grade MOH products are treated in such a way that the mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) content is minimised. MOH can further be present in food through several sources: environmental contamination, lubricants for machinery used during harvesting and food production, processing aids, food additives and food contact materials.
The Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in 2012 in its Scientific Opinion on Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons in Food that the potential human health impact of groups of substances among the MOH vary widely. MOAH may act as genotoxic carcinogens, while some mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) can accumulate in human tissue and may cause adverse effects in the liver.
As some MOAH are considered mutagenic and carcinogenic, it is important that a monitoring of MOH is organised to better understand the relative presence of MOSH and MOAH in food commodities that are major contributors to dietary exposure. Commission Recommendation (EU) 2017/84 of 16 January 2017 on the monitoring of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food and in materials and articles intended to come into contact with food provided that Member States should, with the active involvement of food business operators as well as manufacturers, processors and distributers of food contact materials and other interested parties, perform monitoring of the presence of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food.
As migration from food contact materials is suspected to contribute significantly to the total exposure, monitoring should include pre-packaged food, the packaging material and the presence of functional barriers, and where relevant equipment used for storage and processing.
For the sampling and analysis, the JRC has published a "Guidance on sampling, analysis and data reporting for the monitoring of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food and food contact materials"
Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons in infant formula and follow-on formula
Following the findings by Foodwatch of the presence of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in infant formula and follow-on formula and the request from a Member State to have a harmonised EU risk management approach in relation to these findings, the Commission services requested the relevant competent authorities to sample the batches of infant formula which have been found to contain MOAH and to perform investigations on the source of contamination and to report the outcome of these controls and investigations to the Commission and to EFSA.
The European Commission has asked EFSA to carry out a rapid risk assessment on the risks for public health related to the presence of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in infant formula and follow-on formula, taking into account the analytical results received.
At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain on 18 November 2019, the outcome of the Rapid Risk Assessment was presented by EFSA and the follow-up to outcome of the Rapid Risk Assessment extensively discussed.
The discussions and the conclusions reached at the Committee can be found here.
One of the conclusions was that even when the Joint Research Centre (JRC) "Guidance on sampling, analysis and data reporting for the monitoring of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food and food contact materials" is applied, as the JRC Guideline is not a Standard Operating Procedure for MOAH analysis in a particular matrix (type of food), only analytical results obtained by applying equivalent analytical procedures for the whole analytical process (including sample preparation) can be compared.
Therefore, the JRC has organised, on request of and in co-operation with DG Health and Food Safety, on 5 December 2019 a workshop on the determination of MOAH in infant formula, at which all interested parties have been invited to participate. The outcome and conclusions reached at the workshop can be found here.
Competent authorities have been requested to monitor the presence of MOAH in infant formula and follow-on formula and to report these data to EFSA and the Commission. EFSA has assessed these findings on the possible risk for public health in view of determining appropriate harmonised risk management measures. EFSA presented their assessment at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain on 21 February 2020. EFSA concluded that the presence of MOAH in infant formula has been confirmed with concentrations of MOAH in the range of 0.9 to 3.5 mg/kg and that the estimated exposure for infants and toddlers is of concern for human health, considering the possible presence of 3-7 PAC in the MOAH. Member States agreed that a harmonised risk management approach to ensure a high level of human health protection was appropriate.
At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain on 23 June 2020, the Committee agreed to a harmonised risk management approach as regards the presence of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in infant formula, follow-on formula, foods for special medical purposes intended for infant and young children and young child formula.
Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons in food
In December 2021, Foodwatch published a report on the presence of mineral oils in foods. In 19 products from different Member States, mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) were quantified.
Member States were asked to carry out controls on these products and, in case of positive findings, to carry out investigations towards the causes of the contamination. The follow-up to these findings was discussed at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain on 28 February 2022.
Following a request from Member States to define harmonised limits of quantification, the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain of 21 April 2022 issued a statement on the enforcement of MOAH in food, in which they agreed on uniform limits of quantification. This statement replaces the statement of the SC PAFF of 23 June 2020 on the 'Presence of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in infant formula and follow-on formula – conclusion on harmonised risk management measures'.
Please see the discussions and the conclusions reached at the Committee.
At the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain on 19 October 2022, the Member States agreed on some additional clarifications to the statement of 21 April 2022.
The European Reference Laboratory for Processing Contaminants (EURL-PC) has compiled a list of laboratories that are able to analyse food for content of total MOAH with LOQs in accordance with the levels mentioned in the statement of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Novel Food and Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain of 21 April 2022, with the understanding that neither the EURL-PC nor the European Commission in any way authorise, endorse or scrutinise the information given by the laboratories. The list is made available upon request via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'GET MOAH LAB LIST' in the subject field.
The Commission's Joint Research Centre drafted an update of the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the analysis of mineral oil hydrocarbons in infant formulae, which is available on the JRC website.
Plant toxins and mycotoxins
Following the conclusions of EFSA opinions, the Standing Committee agreed on recommendations for monitoring of the following plant toxins and mycotoxins (in addition to published Commission Recommendations): tropane alkaloids, sterigmatocystin, ergot alkaloids, phomopsins, citrinin, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, Alternaria toxins. These agreed monitoring recommendations are compiled in the following document.
- Fusarium toxins
- Ochratoxin A
- Other mycotoxins
- Ergot alkaloids
- Alternaria toxins
- Other plant toxins
- Tropane alkaloids
- Pyrrolizidine alkaloids
Metals and metalloids
For the heavy metals cadmium, lead and mercury, maximum levels in certain foods have been established by Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006.
Provisions for methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of lead, cadmium, mercury, inorganic tin, 3-MCPD and benzo(a)pyrene in foodstuffs are laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 333/2007.
Scientific Opinions and Reports
- EFSA scientific opinion on cadmium - adopted on 30 January 2009
- EFSA statement on tolerable weekly intake for cadmium - adopted on 18 January 2011 and EFSA scientific report on a comparison of approaches taken by EFSA and JECFA tpo establish a health based guidance value for cadmium - issued on 7 February 2011
- EFSA scientific opinion on arsenic - adopted on 12 October 2009
- EFSA scientific opinion on lead - adopted on 18 March 2010
- EFSA scientific opinion on mercury and methylmercury and related - February 2004
- Scientific co-operation (SCOOP) report on heavy metals in food - March 2004
- "Information Note" from DG Health and Consumers concerning "Methyl mercury in fish and fishery products" (21-04-2008)
- "Information Note" - Consumption of brown crab meat
List of Metals and metalloids:
Dioxins and PCBs
In the second week of September 2008, the Commission was made aware that high levels of melamine were found in infant milk and other milk products in China. Melamine is a chemical intermediate used in the manufacture of resins and plastics. Melamine, which is high in nitrogen, has been fraudulently added to infant milk and milk to give the appearance of increased protein levels.
The high levels of melamine in infant milk resulted in China in very severe health effects in infants and young children. At least four children have died in China from severe kidney failure due to the melamine added to milk powder, and more than 50.000 infants and young children are currently affected by kidney problems.
To assess the risks related to the presence of melamine in composite products containing milk and milk products, such as chocolate, biscuits etc, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a scientific statement.
On 26 September 2008, the Commission adopted interim measures imposing special conditions governing the import of products containing milk or milk products originating in or consigned from China (Commission Decision 2008/757/EC).
The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health expressed a favourable opinion on a Decision confirming and amending the interim protection measures and the Commission adopted this Decision on 14 October 2008 (Commission Decision 2008/798/EC, replacing Decision 2008/757/EC). This Decision was later on amended on 9 December 2008 to extend the scope of the measures to ammonium carbonate and to feed and food containing soya and soya products from China.
Given the significant decrease of Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) notifications since January 2009 and the guarantees provided by the Chinese authorities as regards the controls on melamine in products exported, the measures were reviewed and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1135/2009 was adopted replacing Commission Decision 2008/798/EC.
A detailed overview of the available methods, together with a description of the characteristics of the method, is provided on a website of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements, specifically dedicated to the analysis of melamine and similar compounds in feed and food.