Research has found significant amounts of mineral oil in cardboard boxes made from recycled paper. This mineral oil, which is thought to come from ink used in newspaper printing, is of concern to the German health authorities because they claim it can potentially contaminate food products and pose human health risks.
The BfR claims food contamination from mineral oil is of serious concern because there is a large portion of mineral oil fractions with short chain and aromatic hydrocarbons that can be easily taken up by the body, and could be harmful to health.
The risk assessor said animal studies have shown that mineral oil mixtures with low viscosity are stored in the body and can accumulate, causing damage in the liver, heart valves and lymph nodes. In its assessment there is therefore an urgent need to minimise the migration of mineral oils to foodstuffs.
Following a request from the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), the BfR researched possible approaches.
In a report published this week the German risk assessor has published its recommendations.
For foods at high risk of contamination such as rice and couscous that have high surface contact with cardboard, the BfR recommends that inner bags be used to prevent substance migration. Another possible strategy for these foods is to use cardboard made from virgin fibres.
The BfR also looked at longer term solutions that go further back in the supply chain. These include changing the composition of printing inks used in newspaper printing and refraining from the use of mineral oils that are a cause for health concern. The BfR said this suggestion is further supported by the fact that the uptake of mineral oils from printing inks can also occur through skin contact.