The German-branch of the consumer group tested 15 chocolate products and five brands of potato chips for MOSH (Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbon) and MOAH (Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbon).
It called for the companies to recall the products and for strict limits to be set on MOSH and MOAH.
Sources of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food are packaging and additives, processing aids, and lubricants.
Some MOAH could be mutagenic and carcinogenic, according to a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion in 2012.
Ferrero’s „Kinder Riegel“, Lindt’s „Fioretto Nougat Minis” and „Sun Rice Classic Schoko Happen“ from Rübezahl were the affected products.
Lindt’s had 5mg/kg of MOSH and 0.7mg/kg MOAH, Ferrero’s 6.8mg/kg of MOSH and 1.2mg/kg MOAH and Rübezahl’s 5.3mg/kg of MOSH and 1mg/kg of MOAH.
Lindt: Plan to reduce mineral oils
Lindt said the main reason for the minimal traces of mineral oils in food products is because these substances occur virtually everywhere in the environment and there are different ways in which they find their way into food products.
“Even though the traces are minimal and there are no legal limits, Lindt & Sprüngli takes this issue very seriously and has initiated a plan of action to achieve the greatest possible reduction of even the slightest mineral oil residues,” the firm told us.
“As part of this initiative we are examining the entire supply chain from the harvest through to the sale of finished products so as to identify potential sources of mineral oil traces.”
Lindt said where it identifies potential improvements that it can influence, these will be implemented as soon as possible.
“For example, we do not use recycled paper for our product packaging because traces of the printing inks might be transferred to the chocolate. We also only use inks that are free of mineral oils for printing.
“Together with the industry and associations, we are currently working to ensure that any transfer of mineral oil traces is avoided during the transport of the raw materials from their countries of origin.
“We would like to confirm that our products comply with rigorous local food legislation and are safe for consumption.”
Ferrero told us its products comply fully with the food safety requirements of all the countries in which they are marketed.
"Although the recently raised issue of mineral oil traces in food products has been known to the competent authorities and the food industry for several years, there is as yet no specific food safety regulation regarding this matter. The problem affects the packaging of virtually all foods: indeed, minimal traces of mineral oils occur everywhere in the environment.
"All Ferrero packaging fully complies with applicable legislation on food contact materials. However, in line with its tradition of continuous improvement, since 2013, Ferrero has been engaged in a process of review of all the packaging materials used, in order to guarantee the best quality delivery to consumers."
Rübezahl did not respond to our request for comment.
No EU-wide regulation
There are no EU-wide legal limits for mineral oils in food, however, there is a draft for a national “mineral oil regulation” in Germany, said Foodwatch.
The process is pending since 2012 but the Germany Ministry of Food and Agriculture recently sent a new draft to the EU Commission.
The group said it did not know the details but an older draft only set limits for migration of MOH from the packaging into the food.
Meanwhile, MEPs on the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee called for regulation of chemicals in paper and board packaging this week.
Dr Michael Warhurst, executive director of CHEM Trust, said the MEPS are sending a clear message to the Commission that they need to start working on safety regulations for chemicals in all food contact materials.
“It’s not acceptable to have materials in contact with food without proper regulation of the chemicals within them. We look forward to a strong endorsement of this report by the full European Parliament in the autumn.”
The full European Parliament will vote on the draft report in autumn.
Foodwatch testing and BDSI advice
FoodWatch told us it tested just one pack of “Kinder Riegel” and “Fioretto Nougat Minis”.
“As a small NGO, we can only do spot tests. We cannot (and we don’t want) to replace official tests carried out by authorities. We therefore cannot confirm (nor exclude) if other batches of the same product are affected,” it said.
“We want strict limits for MOSH and zero tolerance for MOAH. We demand from the companies to do a public recall of the contaminated products in order to protect consumers from an avoidable health risk (which has been described e.g. by EFSA 2012).”
FoodWatch tested one other Lindt product: “Hello my name is Cookies & Cream” which had low levels of MOSH and no detectable MOAH.
It also tested two other Ferrero products: “Kinder Riegel” (also known as “Country Crisp”) and “Hanuta” which both contained low MOSH-levels and no detectable MOAH.
The Bundesverbandes der Deutschen Süßwarenindustrie (BDSI/Association of the German Confectionery Industry) said mineral oil components are generally undesirable in food and the entire industry is working to minimize them.
Measures including switching to virgin fibre, the use of mineral oil-free printing inks or appropriate barrier could reduce the migration of mineral oil components during transport and storage - a subject it has discussed with us in the past.
Foodwatch tested chocolate bunnies just before Easter with eight out of 20 found to be MOAH-positive, including the Lindt Easter bunny.
In a bigger test from October it looked at 120 products in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
Products included rice, noodles, and cornflakes with 52 products (43%) containing MOAH and 83% containing MOSH.