Very young children and the elderly may be at particular risk from a potentially carcinogenic chemical compound formed in margarines, bread and vegetable oils when heated, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The compound, 3-MCPD (3-Monochloropropane-1,2-diol ) has an established tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 2 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight. In a new scientific report , EFSA found that although most population groups consumed less than half the TDI, toddlers and the elderly could be at risk of consuming more than the recommended maximum amount. The kidney is the main target organ for 3-MCPD toxicity, according to animal studies.
The report assessed data on the occurrence of 3-MCPD in foods from 14 EU member states from 2009-2011 and found that margarine and similar products contributed 13-83% of total exposure to the compound; bread and rolls contributed 6-26% of the total; vegetable fats and oils contributed 5-74%; fine bakery wares 4-29%; and preserved meats 3-18%. Margarines and vegetable oils were the greatest contributors overall.
However, EFSA noted that there was some uncertainty about exposure and occurrence data, and encouraged the development of standard analytical methods for analysing the compound. It also recommended including composite foods that are not currently covered in the dataset, such as fried, baked or other otherwise thermally treated fat-containing food.
EFSA urged food companies to provide their own analytical data on 3-MCPD to strengthen the current dataset.
“All data providers, including research organisations and food business operators in addition to the official food control organisations, are encouraged to contribute to the European chemical occurrence database with analytical results from random sampling and of high quality, suitable for providing -besides compliance - a robust dataset for risk assessment purposes.”
The compound was first detected in hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), a seasoning ingredient, in soy sauce and similar foods in 1978, in which it formed as a reaction product of hydrochloric acid with triacylglycerols, phospholipids and glycerol from the residual vegetable oil.
Further studies over the past 11 years showed that 3-MCPD may also occur in other heat-treated foods, including bakery products, malt-derived products, and cooked or cured fish or meat, being formed during manufacturing or cooking from fats and salt naturally present or added to the food.