The issue of mineral oil in recycled cardboard has come to light in recent months after analysis at a Swiss laboratory found that it could migrate in “relevant quantities” into carton packed foods.
This is of concern to the BfR because animal studies have suggested that mineral oil, which is thought to come from the ink used in newspaper printing, can accumulate in the body, potentially causing damage in the liver, heart valves and lymph nodes.
The existing body of research is not yet conclusive but the German health authorities recommend that the migration of mineral oils into foods should still be minimised. Of particular concern are dry foods with a large surface such as rice, semolina, corn flakes and noodles.
Safe packaging strategies
Last week, the BfR set out strategies to minimise migration risk in such foods at the ninth BfR Forum on Consumer Protection in Berlin entitled “How to package food safely - health risks of recycled materials?”
The use of liner bags, such as aluminium coated plastics, in carton packs was discussed. Appropriate plastic materials are known and could act as a barrier to the migration of mineral oils. BfR said another possible solution may be impervious paper coatings.
Virgin fibres could also be used and this would provide the necessary protection for consumers although BfR said it was criticised from an ecological perspective.
A final possibility looks further back in the supply chain to the use of different inks in newspaper printing. BfR said this has the advantage that a migration of mineral oils via the skin from reading a newspaper could be prevented.
The German risk assessors, who advise Government on matters of food safety, are calling on industry to pursue these avenues to risk reduction as gaps in knowledge remain about the migration of mineral oil.
“A final health assessment of these residues is currently still difficult, because this concerns complex mixtures,” said BfR president Andreas Hensel. Another barrier to more conclusive findings is that only a few laboratories have the appropriate analytical equipment for their detection.