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Hydrocarbons in food mineral oils: are they dangerous?

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Few people know that mineral oil residues that are harmful to human health contaminate some items such as rice, flour, breakfast cereals, pasta and chocolate. These are mineral oil hydrocarbons or MOH that are exposed to food from paper or plastic packaging.
These containers can contaminate food with plasticizing or bleaching agents and particular attention is given precisely to MOH (Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons), which are found on recycled paper and cardboard and in ink. Let us find out more about these substances.

MOH or Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons - Definition

MOHs are made up of a mixture of hundreds of hydrocarbons with carbon atoms between 10 and 50 and are divided into:

  • MOHS: saturated hydrocarbons, both linear and branched;
  • MOAH: aromatic hydrocarbons, consisting of one or more benzene rings with hydrocarbon chains.
MOHs are generated by refining crude oil or are synthesized from coal, natural gas, and biomass. Because their formation comes from gas or biomass many, believe that MOHs should not be naturally contained in food.
However, mineral oil contamination occurs in a variety of ways:

  • Jute bags (fibre spun using mineral oil) used to transport cocoa, coffee, nuts, etc.
  • Pesticides or in the formulations of such products
  • Agents used to promote the release of baked goods after baking
  • Plasticizers contained in plastics (PE, PP)
  • Migration from paper and cardboard packaging (especially if recycled) and from solvents in printing inks.

How does MOH contamination occur

Food contamination occurs chemically due to evaporation and condensation of the contaminant on the food, in particular for low molecular weight MOH with less than 24 carbon atoms.
In other cases, contamination occurs through packaging and is greatest for flour, breadcrumbs, rice, breakfast cereals, and in high-fat foods such as butter or cocoa.

MOH on humans - Effects

Aromatic hydrocarbons and mineral oils are carcinogenic and genotoxic, meaning they contribute to DNA damage and cause cancer. In addition to this, saturated hydrocarbons from mineral oils accumulate in human tissues and create liver problems.

Regulations for packaging manufacturers

Recommendation No. 84 of 2017 initiated investigations and sampling of mineral oil-contaminated foods and packaging materials, but to date there are no limits on the migration of packaging materials to deem a food acceptable or not.
If sampling establishes the presence of the contaminants, the state can investigate activities put in place by companies to prevent or limit the concentration of MOH, which as we have seen harm human health.

Foaming agents proposed by Settala Gas

Through the know-how related to the development of flammable fluids, Settala Gas is able to offer environmentally friendly, non-ozone depleting foaming agents. These foaming agents are commonly used for the production of polyurethane and polystyrene foams such as PUR, PU, EPS, XPS. Some examples of applications for these foams are packaging materials and building insulation materials.
Contact us to learn more!