FAQ to MCPDs and Glycidyl Fatty Acid Esters

Changed on: 17.10.2017

What are 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD, as well as glycidyl fatty acid esters?

Free MCPD (3- and 2- monochloropropanediol) and their esters, as well as glycidyl fatty acid esters, are process contaminants, as these substances are formed predominantly during the making of vegetable fats and oils: vegetable fats and oils are heated to high temperatures to eliminate unpleasant and bitter aromas and flavours (refining). This triggers the formation of MCPD fatty acid esters (from 150 °C on) and Glycidyl fatty acid esters (from 200 °C on), which can occur in all vegetable fats and oils that are refined and in foods and food products that are made with these fats and oils.

New findings show that 3-MCPDs can also form during the processing of animal-based foods (fish and meat). They can also be found in foods that are toasted, grilled, roasted, fried or smoked.

What health risks do these substances pose?

MCPD (Monochlorpropanediol):

  • 3-MCPD is considered potentially carcinogenic in humans. A tolerable daily intake level of 0.8 microgram per kilogram body weight per day was defined in 2016. This is the amount that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without any adverse effects to human health.
  • There is no maximum limit for 2-MCPD at present. Its effects on the human body have not been studied sufficiently to date.

Gycidyl Fatty Acid Esters:

  • Glycidyl fatty acid esters are broken down in the human body, releasing glycidol. This substance is considered to be probably carcinogenic and damage-inflicting to human genetic material. As a result, this substance should be ingested at the lowest levels possible via food. No daily tolerable intake levels can be defined for this substance at which adverse effects on human health can be excluded.

Which foods and food products contain these substances?

The latest data collated on content levels of these substances in foods can be found in the 2016 report by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). A total of 7,175 data sets on the occurrence of these substances in foods from 23 EU Member States (2009 – 2015) were gathered for this report.

Glycidyl fatty acid esters and 3-MCPDs were detected in edible oils and fats, as well as in foods made using these oils and fats, such as margarine, baked goods and confectionary products, spreads (chocolate spreads, peanut butter), fried products, as well as various snack products (e.g. pretzels, potato crisps) and instant formula and baby foods. AGES tested nut-nougat cream products for Arbeiterkammer Oberösterreich (AK OÖ) in February 2017.

Palm oil contains the highest concentration levels in comparison to other oils

The highest content of these substances is found in palm oils and palm fats, but they also appear in other vegetable oils and fats (e.g. coconut oil/fat, walnut oil, sunflower oil, soya bean oil, rape seed oil and margarines). Palm fat/oil shows average levels of 2.912 micrograms per kilogramme food product (μg/kg) for 3-MCPD and 1.565 for 2-MCPD, as well as 3.955 μg/kg for glycidol, according to the EFSA. Lower averages were found in other oils: between 48 and 608 μg/kg for 3-MCPD, between 86 and 270 μg/kg for 2-MCPD and between 15 and 650 μg/kg for glycidol.

Glycidyl fatty acid esters are formed from diacylglycerol (DAG) when vegetable oil is heated to temperatures of over 200 °C, according to the EFSA. Palm oil contains high DAG levels (4 – 12 %) and, thus, forms more glycidyl fatty acid esters.

Which foods contain these substances?

There is cause for potential health concerns for infants, toddlers and children, according to the EFSA: these younger age groups ingest the highest amounts of these substances on average compared to their body weights. There is also cause for concerns for young people and adults who consume an above average amount of products containing these substances.

  • Babies ingest these substances via instant formula and follow-on formula, as refined oils/fats are used in formula milk.
  • Children up to the age of 3 ingest these substances via vegetable fats and oils, biscuits, baked goods and cakes, infant formula, fried or roasted meats.
  • Children from the age of 3 ingest these substances predominantly via margarine, baked goods and cakes. Other sources are vegetable oils and fats, fried or roasted meats, as well as chocolate spreads.
  • Young people and adults ingest these substances via margarine, baked goods and cakes, as well as fried and roasted meats and chocolate spreads.

Latest test results: AGES Wissen Aktuell zu Säuglingsanfangs- und Folgenahrung auf Milchbasis, Endbericht der Schwerpunktaktion A-011-17

What can consumers do?

  • Palm oil/ palm fat is the most significant source of ingesting these undesired substances for the majority of people as it is found in many foods. The ingredients list shows what types of fat are used.
  • Fats used for frying often contain high levels of these contaminants. This is why it is recommended keeping the consumption of fried foods such as French fries,  deep fried meats etc. to a minimum.
  • Prepare the food yourself using fresh ingredients, as many industrially processed foods contain palm oil (especially chocolate spreads, biscuits, baked goods, cakes, margarine, fried and deep-fried products).

What should parents do whose children are not being breastfed and who feed their babies with industrially processed instant formula?

 

There are no alternatives to formula milk to feed babies if they are not being breastfed. Parents are recommended to keep feeding their babies with these products specially developed for babies because they contain vital nutrients for the infant in the right proportions. 

What is being done to reduce the presence of these substances?

The results made public by the EFSA study show that glycidyl fatty acid contents in palm fat/oil were halved by manufacturers between 2010 and 2015. Thus, consumer contamination levels for glycidyl fatty acids in food have been reduced considerably. The content of 3-MCPD and its fatty acid esters in vegetable oils has barely changed over the past five years.

The European Commission will determine maximum levels for glycidyl fatty acid esters in vegetable fats and oils and in instant formula and follow-on formula milk this year (2017). The draft for the planned maximum levels is based on the following values:

Glycidyl fatty acid esters expressed as glycidol Maximum level
(µg/kg)
Vegetable oils and fats placed on the market for the final consumer or for use as an ingredient in food with the exception of the foods referred to in 4.2.2 1000
Vegetable oils and fats destined for the production of baby food and processed cereal-based food (3)500
Infant formula, follow-on formula and foods for special medical purposes intended for infants and young children (powder) (3,29)75 until 30.06.2019
50 as from 1.07.2019
Infant formula, follow-on formula and foods for special medical purposes intended for infants and young children (liquid) (3, 29)10.0 until 30.06.2019
6.0 as from 1.07.2019

Link: EUR-Lex - Ares(2017)4129615


A European-wide limit of 0.02 mg/kg (Regulation EC 1881/2006) has been defined for 3-MCPD in soy sauces and hydrolysed vegetable protein.

Sources:

BfR (2016). Fragen und Antworten zur Kontamination von Lebensmitteln mit 3-MCPD-, 2-MCPD- und Glycidyl-Fettsäureestern. FAQ des BfR vom 07. Juli 2016. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

BfR (2016). 3-MCPD-, 2-MCPD- Glycidyl-Fettsäureester in Lebensmitteln: EFSA und BfR sehen Gesundheitsrisiko vor allem für jüngere Bevölkerungsgruppen. Mitteilung Nr. 020/2016 des BfR vom 07. Juli 2016. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

BLL (2016). Toolbox zur Minimierung von 3-MCPD-Fettsäureestern und Glycidyl-Fettsäureestern in Lebensmitteln. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

EFSA (2016). Risks for human health related to the presence of 3- and 2-monochloropropanediol (MCPD), and their fatty acid esters, and glycidyl fatty acid esters in food. EFSA Journal 2016;14(5):4426 [159 pp.]. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

EFSA (2016). Chemicals in food 2016: Overview of selected data collection. (Zugriff. 26.01.2017)

IARC (2000). IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. Volume 77. Some Industrial Chemicals. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

Verordnung (EG) Nr. 1881/2006 der Kommission vom 19. Dezember 2006 zur Festsetzung der Höchstgehalte für bestimmte Kontaminanten in Lebensmitteln. (Zugriff: 26.07.2016).

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