Sea transport of edible fats and oils – EFSA completes evaluations of previous cargoes

News Story
18 December 2012

The worldwide trade of edible fats and oils in bulk requires their transport by road, rail, inland waterways and sea. In the European Union, the carriage by sea of edible fats and oils into Europe is permitted in bulk tanks already used to transport substances on an EU approved list of acceptable previous cargoes. As the presence of these substances may lead to contamination of foodstuffs, they need to be assessed with respect to possible safety concerns. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has completed the evaluation of 64 such substances or groups of substances, rating the majority of them “acceptable” as previous cargoes and, in some cases, specifying when conditions of use should apply (for example, as defined by EU legislation) before edible fats and oils can be transported in the same tanks.

The substances on the EU list have a variety of industrial or agricultural uses: they include food ingredients such as potable water, fatty acids and molasses; constituent parts of food (e.g. calcium, other types of fats and oils); and regulated substances such as food additives or flavourings. Other examples include extraction solvents, fertilizers and substances used in chemical processes.

EFSA’s scientific experts concluded that a number of substances do not meet the criteria: calcium lignosulphonate is no longer considered acceptable due to variations in its composition and the lack of information on its impurities and potential reaction with fats and oils. For wine lees and montan wax there was insufficient information available on their composition to conclude that they would not be of health concern when used as a previous cargo. Carnauba wax and silicon dioxide also raise safety concerns because of their insolubility in water and high melting point, which may affect the efficiency of tank cleaning.

In 2010, following a request from the European Commission, EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) began evaluating the substances on the EU list of acceptable previous cargoes for edible fats and oils, using new internationally agreed scientific criteria. These criteria were established by the former Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) and reviewed by the CONTAM Panel in 2009 in light of the criteria of the Codex Alimentarius Committee for Fats and Oils. The criteria now require the evaluation of any impurities that might be present when assessing the possible risk posed by these substances in the food chain. The publication today of the third and final opinion in this series marks the completion of this work.


Notes to editors:

  • Most of the substances in the current EU legislation (Annex to Directive 96/3/EC) and evaluated by the CONTAM Panel are also listed in the CODEX draft list and proposed draft list of acceptable previous cargoes, which were  adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Geneva on 4-9 July 2011.
  • While carrying out its evaluations, the CONTAM Panel noted that the relevant EU legislation contains a number of inaccuracies in the chemical identification and inconsistencies in the chemical specification of substances with respect to current transport practices. The Panel therefore made a number of recommendations to correct these shortcomings. The Panel also made recommendations on the information that should be provided by applicants when new substances are to be evaluated as previous cargoes.
  • Past evaluations of previous cargoes by EFSA are available in the CONTAM Panel’s 2009 Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of substances as acceptable previous cargoes for edible fats and oils . See also the CONTAM Panel’s Review of the criteria for acceptable previous cargoes for edible fats and oils .
  • The most commonly used health-based guidance values for these types of substances are acceptable daily intake (ADI) and tolerable daily intake (TDI). The ADI is the amount of a specific substance intentionally added to the food chain (for instance a food additive, or a residue of pesticide) that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. A Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI), on the other hand, is an estimate of the quantity of a chemical contaminant to which we may be exposed through environmental contamination, and which when found in food can be ingested daily over a lifetime without posing a significant risk to health. For more information on health-based guidance values see FAQ on chemicals in food .

For media enquiries please contact:
EFSA Media Relations Office
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E-mail: Press@efsa.europa.eu