An expert science panel at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded this week that a group ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) of 0-10 mg/kg body weight per day could now be established for methyl and ethyl parabens and their sodium salts, but not propyl paraben due to recent research that questioned its impact on sperm production in rats.
Parabens, E214 to 219, are not as widely used by food manufacturers as other antimicrobial agents, probably due to higher cost and flavour objections. But under EU Directive 95/2/EC, Annex III, they are allowed in a limited number of foods in combination with either sorbates or sorbates and benzoates.
Principal applications for parabens include the jelly coatings of meat products, surface treatment of dried meat products, cereal- or potato-based snacks and coated nuts, confectionery (excluding chocolate), and liquid dietary food supplements.
Requested by the European Commission, the latest opinion on parabens from the EFSA scientists follows on from a 1994 evaluation by the former EC Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) that allocated a temporary group ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) of 0-10 mg/kg bw (milligrams/kilogram body weight), for methyl, ethyl and propyl p-hydroxybenzoic acid esters and their sodium salts.
"At the last revision of the additive legislation nearly two years ago we actively lobbied Parliament for a real evaluation of parabens," Beate Kettliz, from the European Consumer Association said to FoodNavigator.com.
"This latest EFSA opinion is much more explicit with regards to thresholds, the issue is now to see which and how much parabens are used,"she added.
Despite being used as preservatives in the EU food industry for over 50 years it would appear that food manufacturers today have opted out of using them in their food formulations.
A spokesperson for UK chilled food giant Northern Foods said to FoodNavigator.com that the firm does not use parabens in any of its foods, adding, 'I'm not aware of there being any use in the UK, it's not custom and practise.'
Commenting on the conclusions of the opinion on parabens, Dr. Sue Barlow, chair of EFSA's AFC panel stressed the apparent limited use of propyl parabens: "We would agree that there is very unlikely to be any immediate or long term danger to health from the presence of propyl paraben in the diet, particularly given - as far as we are aware - its very limited use by the food industry in the European Union."