Healthy living

Cancer risk from recycled packaging

Health concerns over recycled cardboard cereal boxes Health concerns over cardboard cereal boxes

Some food manufacturers are changing the packaging they use for foods due to health concerns over the use of recycled cardboard.

Scientists found potentially toxic mineral oils in food stored in recycled cardboard boxes, such as those used to store cereal. The mineral oils came from printing inks of recycled newspapers used in making the cardboard.

Swiss researchers tested 119 products bought in German supermarkets last year for the presence of mineral oils. Most contained mineral oil, even when the products were sealed in plastic bags.

The longer the products were stored in the packaging, the more mineral oils they contained. Only the thicker inner plastic bags seemed to prevent mineral oils from leaching from the recycled cardboard into the food.

Dr Koni Grob, of the Food Safety Laboratory in Zurich, told the BBC: "Roughly 30 products from these 119 were free of mineral oil.

"For the others they all exceeded the limit, and most exceeded it more than 10 times, and we calculated in the long run they would probably exceed the limit 50 times on average and many will exceed it several hundred times."

Studies on rats have shown how dangerous mineral oils can be.

Dr Grob said: "Toxicologists talk about two effects. One is the chronic inflammation of various internal organs and the other is cancer."

However, he added that long term exposure to the chemicals is needed, and a single meal would have little effect on health.

Food manufacturer Jordans told the BBC it had already stopped using recycled cardboard packaging. Others, such as Weetabix and Kellog's, are looking at alternative recycled packaging which is not made from recycled newspapers.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is carrying out research into the mineral oil content of recycled packaging.

Terry Donohue, acting head of FSA's chemical safety division, said: "Should there be any evidence from our study - and we will carry out a risk assessment - we will take immediate action to protect the public."

This article was published on Tue 8 March 2011

Image © Reidos -

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