Mineral oil in board issue may resurface

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food standards agency

board manufacturers are working on barriers to mineral oil migration
board manufacturers are working on barriers to mineral oil migration
A reassuring Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey and the promise of an EU level report regarding food safety risks from mineral oil content in recycled board has significantly reduced the pressure on board producers, converters and end users.

But, a year since the story first surfaced in the mainstream media, does that mean the issue will vanish altogether? Some in the research community doubt it.

The question of ink-derived mineral oil migration from recycled board packaging into food, and the potential health risks associated with it, reached national radio and TV on March 8 2011. The story picked up on research carried out in a Swiss government laboratory by Dr Koni Grob.

In December last year, the FSA published its survey examining the migration of 'selected printing ink components' from printed virgin and recycled cartonboard into food. At the time, FSA director of food safety Dr Alison Gleadle stated: "This survey shows that food packaging can contain one or more different types of mineral oil. However, based upon the levels we found, we do not identify specific food safety concerns."​ On this basis, consumers did not need to change their eating habits, she added.

Over the next few months, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is expected to publish its own report on the topic.

Not so straightforward

UK director of packaging research body Pira International Nick Kernoghan said: "For now, it would appear that the UK regulator has drawn a line under the subject. However, in practice it might not be so straightforward."

Director of packaging affairs at the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) Andrew Barnetson said: "Frankly, as far as I'm aware, the issue has gone quiet in the UK, and we have seen far fewer enquiries about mineral oils."

Kernoghan noted the FSA's December statement that it remains in discussion with the food industry about printing inks and mineral oils.

"This dialogue between the food industry and the FSA is perhaps one of the drivers for the significant volume of mineral oil migration measurements we have been making at Pira,"​ he said. "This has been in order to help various companies identify effective barrier layers against mineral oil migration."

Recycled board

Companies such as Mayr Melnhof, Walki and BASF have been intensifying their work on effective barriers against these hydrocarbons, potentially adding to the cost of recycled board.

According to the CPI's Barnetson, the use of mineral oils in both packaging printing inks and paper processing chemicals is minimal, and is being phased out entirely in Europe. "But there are other sources, such as newsprint inks, where I believe mineral oils content is the norm,"​ he said.

Pira said that a positive conclusion from EFSA about consumer safety at current levels of exposure might bring the debate to a satisfactory conclusion. "However, such an opinion will not guarantee that the issue will disappear,"​ said Kernoghan. "After all, EFSA has said the same thing about Bisphenol A on numerous occasions."

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