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New European directive on MOSH and MOAH analysis as reaction to publication by Foodwatch 2019

On 5 December 2019 the European directive ‘JRC EUR 29666’ laid down the requirements for MOSH and MOAH analysis method in baby foods. MOSH and MOAH can arise in food products by contamination with mineral oils which should not be present in food. For example this can occur through migration of mineral ink from the packaging materials. The new directive is intended to standardise analysis methods for MOAH in baby foods to make the analysis results better comparable. The Eurofins lab in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is one of the first laboratories to comply with the new directive. MOSH and MOAH analysis specialist Khalid Bensbaho explains what’s new. For example, an extra process step has been added. And it’s now also possible in the lab in Zeeuws Vlaanderen to track down the source of the contamination. How is that done? Khalid Bensbaho gives us an update.
The need arose for a new directive, after the publication by Foodwatch in 2019. This stated that mineral oils (MOSH and MOAH) were present in different brands of baby food. Foodwatch published this article after having a number of baby food brands analysed. No legal requirements were laid down for MOSH and MOAH, but Foodwatch stated that contamination of baby food with mineral oils is undesirable. Producers called the results published by Foodwatch into question, and presented different analysis results themselves. During a round table discussion at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Brussels on 5 December 2019, agreements were made by 77 stakeholders including representative of baby food producers, laboratories, EFSA and the Joint Research Centre. Khalid Bensbaho was among those present at this meeting. Under his leadership, the Eurofins laboratory in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen developed the mineral oil analysis for MOSH and MOAH. The laboratory in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is now one of the first to comply with the directive.
“We need to protect children from MOSH and MOAH”
“The directive only deals with the method for MOAH in milk powder”, says Bensbaho. “The method is different for every food product. That means the analysis for MOSH and MOAH is extremely complex. Many actions and substances can disturb the analysis, so these need to be eliminated to ensure the right results.” In this case the analysis is of baby foods. “Small children are vulnerable, and we need to protect them from substances like MOSH and MOAH. Before, each lab had its own analysis method. But now, with the introduction of the new directive, there is no longer any room for discussion about the result of the analysis”, Bensbaho explains.
Extra process steps in the analysis method
In the analysis, the laboratories first test if MOSH or MOAH are present in the baby food. “Then all laboratories have to confirm that the oil is from a fossil source. Not all the laboratories do this at present. For example, we make a distinction between mineral oil and vegetable oil”, says Bensbaho. With 25 years of experience in the chemical industry, Bensbaho knows what he’s talking about. There are also possible disruptions in the analysis of MOSH and MOAH in baby foods. “The samples often contain natural fatty acids. That means ‘saponification’ is a necessary step to remove those fatty acids from the sample. This is because the fatty acids make the measurement more difficult .” This doesn’t change much for the Eurofins lab in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. “We already work in this way”, says Bensbaho. “The directive states that the saponification must last for at least 30 minutes. Our saponification time was formerly slightly less than this, so we’ve now increased the time. Apart from that we didn’t really need to change very much, because we were already almost compliant with the directive.
Back to the source
The lab in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen goes one step further. Not only do the specialists confirm that it really is a mineral oil, they also analyse what type of mineral oil it is. “The hydrocarbon chains in the mineral oil have a kind of ‘fingerprint’ which we use to trace their source ”, says Bensbaho. “For example petrol has values between C6 and C12, and for diesel they are between C10 and C30. While kerosene or lubricating oil have other values that indicate their origins. That allows us to say where the mineral oil comes from. For example it may be from the packaging, such as if the mineral ink migrates from cardboard boxes into the food product”, according to Bensbaho. “And that’s not the only possible way that MOSH and MOAH can enter food products. Lubricating oil in machines can cause contamination during the production process. And exhaust gases can also contaminate foods during transport”.
Almost all products need to be transported. Just imagine: the shipment is sent by air, and the producer doesn’t take any special precautions to limit contamination. Then the kerosene that is released into the air during loading and unloading can easily lead to MOSH and MOAH contaminating the food product. Other possible sources are environmental pollution or pesticides, which can also contain mineral oils. Contamination can occur if one product comes into contact with another during transport without protection. Producers often have multiple products, which they make with different raw materials and semi-finished products from different countries. So they often don’t know themselves where the source is. In that case the analysis result gives an indication of where to look.”

More information?
In the Eurofins laboratory in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Khalid Bensbaho and his specialists are working every day on MOSH and MOAH analyses, and on searching for information on contamination. These analyses are carried out under accreditation by the Dutch Accreditation Council (RvA) in different areas such as foods and packaging materials. If you’re interested in an analysis for MOSH and MOAH or source tracing, please contact our lab in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Netherlands) at or on +31 (0)114 635400.

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