The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain has published the results of a risk assessment for glycerol-based process contaminants found in palm oil, other vegetable oils and margarines, and some processed foods.
The Panel considered the risks to public health from glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD) and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD) and their fatty acid esters. These substances can be generated during food processing, especially when refining vegetable oils at high temperatures (200oC approx.).
The toxicity of glycidol (the parent compound of GE) was considered for the risk assessment of GE, based on the assumption that the esters are completely converted to glycidol after ingestion. There is evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic and the Panel therefore did not set a safe level for GE. They concluded that GE is a potential health concern for consumers, particularly for babies fed on infant formula. However it was noted that voluntary action by industry had halved levels of GE in palm oil and fats between 2010 and 2015.
A tolerable daily intake (TDI) for 3-MCPD and its fatty acid esters was set at 0.8 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day based on evidence from animal testing, but there was found to be insufficient information to set a TDI for 2-MCPD. Estimated average and high exposures to 3-MCPD in young age groups exceed the TDI and are considered a potential health concern. Palm oil is a major contributor to 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD exposure for most consumers and contamination levels have remained unchanged in the last five years.
The Panel also made recommendations for further research to learn more about the toxicity of these compounds and dietary exposure to them. The full risk assessment can be found in a published Scientific Opinion here.