12 January - 20 June 2016

EFSA expert panel delivers scientific opinion on glycerol-based process contaminants

Glycerol based process contaminants are found in palm oil, but also in other vegetable oils, margarines and some processed foods. Following a request from the European Commission the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has delivered a scientific opinion on the risks for human health related to the presence of 3- and 2-monochloropropanediol (MCPD), and their fatty acid esters, and glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) in food.

Glycerol based process contaminants are found in palm oil, but also in other vegetable oils, margarines and some processed foods.  Following a request from the European Commission the Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) has delivered a scientific opinion on the risks for human health related to the presence of 3- and 2-monochloropropanediol (MCPD), and their fatty acid esters, and glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) in food.  The substances form during food processing, in particular, when refining vegetable oils at high temperatures (approx. 200oC).  

The CONTAM Panel considered literature made publicly available until 10 February 2015.  CONTAM Panel found and evaluated 7175 occurrence data on 3-MCPD, 2-MCPD, and glycidol. The highest levels of 3-MPCD, 2-MCPD and GE were found in palm oils, and palm fats, followed by other oils and fats which also contain substantial levels.  Other than fats and oil, the highest levels were seen in the groups’ potato crisps, hot surface cooked pastries, cookies and short crusts. 

The youngest populations (infants, toddlers and other children) were showed to have the highest dietary exposure estimates for 3-MPCD, 2-MCPD and GE. The scientific opinion lists various food groups which were major contributors to dietary exposure and for the three youngest groups, these included “infant and follow on formulae”, “vegetable fats and oil”, cookies, “Pastries and cakes” and “Margarine and similar”.

Following a review of available data, the CONTAM panel concluded that the kidney and testis “appeared to be the main target organs for 3-MCPD-induced toxicity” and derived a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 8µg/kg body weight per day. The scientific opinion notes that while the average exposure to 3-MCPD was below this level for adolescents, adults, elderly and very elderly, average exposure for infants, toddlers and other children was above this level for around half of the dietary surveys used for these groups.

The Panel notes that there is limited data on the short term toxicity of 2-MCPD and concluded that “it was not possible to undertake risk characterisation for 2-MCPD due to the lack of information”. For GE, the scientific opinion states that in view of the genotoxic and carcinogenic potential, a safe level was not set but that a “Margin of Exposure” (MoE) approach showed that exposure for the younger age groups was of potential concern.

In conclusion, the scientific opinion states that “estimated exposure substantially exceeding the group TDI for 3-MCPD is of concern; this is particularly seen in the younger age groups” and indicated that further data on 2-MCPD is required to indicate toxicity and suggests that further work on GE would help “reduce uncertainty in the risk assessment”.

RSSL has expertise in analysing food and drinks for a wide range of contaminants including heavy metals by ICP-MS and 3-MCPD (to 10 ppb) by GCMS. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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