According to a Swiss study, breakfast cereals and other foods sold in recycled boxes could be contaminated by oils from printers’ ink.
Manufacturers confirm that they are considering altering their packaging following the revelation regarding health concerns, though the UK Food Standards Agency – the FSA – food safety watchdog for the industry - continues to insist that there is no risk.
They stated: “The FSA is not aware of any firm evidence to suggest that there are food safety risks related to mineral oils in recycled food packaging. The research [which examined products bought from German supermarkets] … is interesting, but due to incomplete data the results have not demonstrated that mineral oils in food packaging represent a food safety risk.” Further research was being carried out, the FSA said.
The Swiss researchers found that the mineral oils used in newspapers that were later recycled to make cardboard packaging for food stuffs, can leach into foods such as breakfast cereals, rice & pasta, even where protective inner bags are used between the cardboard & the food.
Kori Grob from the Food Safety Lab in Zurich spoke about the possible health risks. He said that toxicologists had linked the mineral oils to the inflammation of internal organs & cancer. He was quick to point out that meals would contain only a minute amount.
Grob stated that it would be too damaging to the environment to switch to using packaging that wasn’t made from recycled materials, & said that it would be necessary to find other solutions for e.g. inner food linings that would act as a barrier to the oils.
He said: “Our bodies already contain, on average, around one gram of mineral oil – that is by far the largest contaminant we have in our body. For some people it is 10 grams, which is a high value. We are obviously accumulating mineral oil over a lifetime. What the baby gets through human milk is probably staying over a lifetime.
“One month or less has no real effect, so there is no emergency – consumers should not make any rapid changes. We have to think about it.”
Jordans - producers of the Country Crisp and Crunchy Oats breakfast cereals - has stopped using certain kinds of recycled cardboard. Other manufacturers say they are taking action to reduce levels of mineral oils in packaging.
Jordans said: “We will be discussing improved supply of recycled board that avoids content from newspapers, with the industry and our suppliers.”
Kellogg’s made reference to consulting with suppliers regarding the development of packaging “which allows us to meet our environmental commitments but will also contain significantly lower levels of mineral oil”.
The company said: “We are also looking at alternative inner liners for our packets. Whilst there are strict regulations when it comes to the packaging of food, there is currently no direction from the UK government about mineral oils. We will immediately follow any such guidance once it has been given.”