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Scientific Opinion on Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons in Food

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Wiley Online Library

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Consumers are exposed to a range of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) via food.  Mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) consist of linear and branched alkanes, and alkyl-substituted cyclo-alkanes, whilst mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) include mainly alkyl-substituted polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Products, commonly specified according to their physico-chemical properties, may differ in chemical composition depending on the oil source. Technical grade MOH contain 15 - 35 % MOAH, which is minimised in food grade MOSH (white oils). Major sources of MOH in food are food packaging and additives, processing aids, and lubricants. Estimated MOSH exposure ranged from 0.03 to 0.3 mg/kg b.w. per day, with higher exposure in children. Specific production practices of bread and grains may provide additional MOSH exposure. Except for white oils, exposure to MOAH is about 20 % of that of MOSH. Absorption of alkanes with carbon number above C35 is negligible. Branched and cyclic alkanes are less efficiently oxidised than n-alkanes. MOSH from C16 to C35 may accumulate and cause microgranulomas in several tissues including lymph nodes, spleen and liver. Hepatic microgranulomas associated with inflammation in Fischer 344 rats were considered the critical effect. The no-observed-adverse-effect level for induction of liver microgranulomas by the most potent MOSH, 19 mg/kg b.w. per day, was used as a Reference Point for calculating margins of exposure (MOEs) for background MOSH exposure. MOEs ranged from 59 to 680. Hence, background exposure to MOSH via food in Europe was considered of potential concern. Foodborne MOAH with three or more, non- or simple-alkylated, aromatic rings may be mutagenic and carcinogenic, and therefore of potential concern. Revision of the existing acceptable daily intake for some food grade MOSH is warranted on the basis of new toxicological information.