Pick packaging carefully to thwart carcinogenic mineral oils, says BDSI

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Plastic packaging materials an important first step to guard against toxic mineral oils, says BDSI as it begins three year research project.
Plastic packaging materials an important first step to guard against toxic mineral oils, says BDSI as it begins three year research project.

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The Association of Germany Confectionery Industry (BDSI) has urged the industry to choose plastic packaging that provides a protective barrier against carcinogenic mineral oils.

The organization has embarked on a three year project to develop a minimization toolbox for the industry that will help confectioners guard against dangerous mineral oils that find their way into products from numerous sources including the environment, packaging materials, inks and from processing aids.

The biggest source is packaging

Speaking to ConfectioneryNews after his presentation at the ProSweets Conference on Ingredients in Cologne, Germany, last week, Prof Reinhard Mattisek director of the Food Chemistry Institute (LCI), a division of the BDSI, said: “The first important step is to control the packaging – it is the biggest source.

“The use of cardboard increased in the last 20 years because it’s good packaging material and made from recycled sources. Now we have this contamination. So maybe manufacturers of food will change their packaging systems and use more plastics and avoid recycled papers.”

Growing concern over mineral oils

Lindt advent calendar
Advent calendar chocolates using recycled cardboard were highlighted as a concern in the German press in 2012.

In 2012, the German press widely reported tests by consumer group Stiftung Warentest​ that claimed potentially dangerous mineral oil residues were found advent calendar chocolates.

Stiftung Warentest classed any product with over 3 mg of aromatic mineral oils as high in the substance and said that anything above 0.5 mg contained the carcinogenic aromatic variety.

Peter Liefen, a manager for BDSI, previously called the reports “panic making”​ and said that one piece of chocolate contained only 0.02 mg of aromatic oils. No legal limits for mineral oils currently exist in the EU.

Germany to legislate

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Matissek is leading the BDSI research
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Matissek is leading the BDSI research

Protection via food packaging could soon come under the spotlight given pending legislation in Germany.

“There are not regulations yet. The German food law has drafted regulation but it is not fixed yet. We expect that they will regulate the migration – the contents in the food packaging and not the levels in the food,” ​said Mattisek.

It’s not yet clear what level of mineral oils are present in confectionery and indeed whether these levels pose a risk to human health. “The Ministry says ‘not detectable’ – but what is ‘not detectable? We think that this may be very low limits in the parts per million (ppm) range, but it’s not clear yet,” ​said Mattisek.

Mineral oils in food

rice study MOH
Various sources of MOH potentially contaminating rice were reported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a 2012 scientific opinion.

Mineral oils were first discovered to migrate into food in 2009 by the Zürich Canton Laboratory in Switzerland.

High traces of mineral oils were found in newspapers (30,000 mg) and levels of between 300-1,000 mg were found in food packaging.

A project by the German government found that more than 200 substances may migrate into food and it recommended a functional barrier for mineral oils.


Mineral oils are derived from crude oil and coal and are indigestible unlike edible oils, which are obtained from plants or minerals and are digestible. Certain types of mineral oils are also carcinogenic.

Mineral oils are compositions of complex hydrocarbons that fall into two categories: mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH).  MOAH are more toxic than the MOSH variety and are also carcinogenic.

Contamination occurs throughout the supply chain - source LCI
Mineral oil contamination can occur throughout the supply chain.

In food, MOAHs get into the product throughout the supply chain. Food packaging, particularly recycled paper or cardboard are big culprits as are offset processing inks. Mineral oils from the packaging can evaporate at room temperature and contaminate the food.

Migration from packaging can occur from primary packaging, secondary packaging and even from packages nearby the product, say the BDSI.

“The only safe way to avoid migration is use of a functional barrier,” ​said Mattisek, pinpointing plastic packaging such as polyethylene and polypropylene as possible options.

Other sources of contamination

BDSI invest in machinery
The BDSI has invested about half a million euros in new laboratory equipment for the mineral oil project that it hopes will inform the discussion above and beyond the confectionery industry.

Another source of contamination for MOSH is from processing aids and food additives including release agents, glazing agents and anti-dusting agents.

Mineral oils can also be found in the environment through industrial emissions, harvesting or from lubricating oils or cleaning agents used in manufacturing.

“Efforts by all parts of the value chain are necessary,”​ said Mattisek, adding that packaging alone would not solve the problem.

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Darmstadt University: packaging is not responsible for mineral oils found in chocolate from advent calendars

Posted by Jori Ringman-Beck,

The German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest published test results according to which most chocolates in 24 tested advent calendars in Germany contained mineral oil hydrocarbon residues. Stiftung Warentest also mentioned recycled cardboard packaging as the source of those residues. An analysis of the Technical University Darmstadt published today, shows that this conclusion is not appropriate.
The Paper Technology and Mechanical Process Engineering Unit of the Technical University in Darmstadt obtained each of the 24 calendars tested by Stiftung Warentest to conduct an analysis on the fibre content of the calendars. This is a standard test that Darmstadt University conducts on a regular basis. The results show clearly that 23 out of the 24 calendars tested are made of virgin fibre, only one contained recycled fibre.
The broad statement from Stiftung Warentest that mineral oil hydrocarbons in the chocolate of their tested advent calendars originates most likely from the recycled cardboard packaging is questionable and cannot be correct. The source is not the cardboard used in the calendars.
There are several possibilities of how mineral oils can get into chocolate. The root cause for this still needs to be determined. As potential sources Darmstadt University listed additives and processing chemicals used during food production and other packaging materials (e.g. plastic trays) as well as potential contamination during transportation and storage.
As a precautionary measure the paper-based fibre chain has implemented several voluntary actions on this issue, taking a pro-active and innovative action to solve the case. The industry has also developed self-regulation: Industry Guideline for Food Contact Materials and a guidance on GMP (Good Manufacturing Practise) to ensure a consistent European production of safe food packaging.

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The other sources of mineral oil

Posted by Simon Levitt,

The German confectionery industry might want to be careful on this mineral oil issue. If I heard correctly, when the advent calendar tests were looked at more closely, most of the MO was not coming from the packaging, but rather from ‘other’ sources. In which case, the German industry may want to focus less on the packaging, and look more closely at the other sources; or challenge the German government on whether there is any basis for concern at these microscopic levels. Most of the other governments in Europe have looked at this and don’t have the same concerns.

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