In 2010, German scientist Dr. Koni Grob found extremely low levels of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in some dry foods packaged in paperboard and concluded that the impurities either migrated into the food from the paperboard packaging itself, the printing inks used on the outside of the packaging, or from the corrugated cardboard shipping containers. This study generated significant media attention that irresponsibly connected recycled paperboard to health risks.
But a later study by Germany’s Darmstadt University found that additives, food-processing chemicals, and other packaging materials such as plastic trays could have been the source of the contamination. They also suggested that the migration could have occurred during transportation and/or storage.
In 2012, MOH was found in European advent calendar chocolates. Initially, recycled board, inks, and substances used to lubricate food-processing machines were implicated, until it was determined that the inks were MO free and 23 of 24 samples were actually packaged in SBS virgin board, not recycled paperboard.
To ensure a consistent production of safe food packaging, the European paper-based industry has developed the Industry Guideline for Food Contact Materials and guidance on GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). Even so, Germany is expected to draft regulations soon that will prohibit migration from recycled paperboard packaging to food of mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) with C10-25 at 0.15 mg/kg or more, and migration of MOH with C10-C25 at 0.6 mg/kg or more. No method for testing has yet been specified.
Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has also recommended that certain newspaper printing inks be phased out and foodstuffs be protected from direct contact with recycled board by being packaged in an inner, non-permeable plastic bag or packaged in virgin paperboard only.
Since regulations and laws that are implemented in the EU are generally a harbinger of what can be expected in the U.S., any regulations against MOH passed in Germany should be of great concern to the North American paper and paperboard packaging industry.
PPC supports further scientific studies to understand the sources for the contamination and the impact of mineral oil on human health so as to understand if—or what—type of regulation makes sense in the U.S.
Nestlé Standards on Packaging Compliance
Stephen Klump, Nestlé's Packaging Safety and Compliance Manager for Zone-Americas and a speaker at PPC's 2012 Spring Meeting in Louisville, KY, informed attendees about Nestlé's packaging compliance documents.
To download the presentation, click on the slide.