Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons
MOSH / MOAH
Mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) are compounds that can be obtained through the distillation of crude oil. The term is commonly used to refer to mineral oils that are used for fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosine, heating oil, as well as lubricants and solvents. Fundamentally, mineral oils are complex mixtures of a variety of different hydrocarbons that can be subdivided into two groups. On the one hand, there are linear, branched, and cyclic saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH: Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons), and on the other, there are mostly alkylated aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH: Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons). Furthermore, structurally related to MOSH, there are also POSH (Polyolefin Oligomeric Saturated Hydrocarbons), which derive from materials produced using petroleum, such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Due to their strong structural similarities, POSH often cannot be analytically differentiated from MOSH.
Investigations conducted by the European Food Safety Authority found that MOH are present in almost all food products. In particular, in the case of dried food products with a large surface area, such as e.g. flour, semolina, rice, breadcrumbs, or breakfast cereals, you cannot fully rule out the risk of contamination. Fatty foods as well, such as chocolate, butter, nuts, or cooking oils, could be contaminated with mineral oil hydrocarbons. These compounds can end up in the food products in a variety of ways. Potential paths of contamination include the packaging materials (recycled paper, printer ink, jute or sisal sacks treated with oils for waterproofing), lubricating oils from production or harvesting machines, food additives (separating agents, coatings, brighteners, anti-dust agents), gas emissions from the surrounding environment, and many more. With the modern-day flow of commodities and production processes, it is a difficult technical challenge to completely prevent the risk of MOH contamination in food.
When MOH enters the human body through food consumption, these substances accumulate in body fat. In particular, mineral oil hydrocarbon deposits can form in the liver, heart valves, and lymph nodes, thus leading to damage in those areas. Due to the lack of data, however, it is not currently known which exposure level begins to lead to adverse health effects in humans, which is why no tolerable daily intake (TDI) can be recommended. EFSA fundamentally designates MOAH as being concerning, and, according to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), mineral oil contamination, either from MOAH or MOSH, is always undesirable. Consequently, no legally binding maximum residue levels in food exist at the moment. In order to gain some orientation, one could consult the general principles and requirements of food law (EC) No 178/2002, the contamination regulation (EEC) 315/93, the GMP regulation (EC) No 2023/2006, as well as the food contact material regulation (EC) No 1935/2004. In these regulations, MOH is defined as a substance group that is undesirable and whose content in food should be minimized according to the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable). Furthermore, in April 2019, the Food Federation Germany and the German Federal State Working Group for Consumer Health Protection (LAC) published orientation values for MOH content in certain food groups for the first time.
The GBA Group already added the analysis of MOSH and MOAH to our analytical portfolio several years ago and since then we have been continuously monitoring the latest developments in the field. The analysis is based on the methods published by the BfR and has been optimized by the GBA Group and is performed routinely with an LC-GC-FID combination. If you are interested in getting any further information on this topic, then please feel free to get in contact with us.
Following this link you will find information on the orientation values for mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food (as of June 2020):