3-MCPD & glycidol in oil and infant formula

(March 2020)

Snap-shot survey of processing contaminants in oil and infant formula

New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS), with input from FSANZ, did a snap-shot survey of 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD) & glycidol in vegetable oils and infant formula. These contaminants are formed during oil processing. Infant formula was selected as it is a special purpose food for infants that can contain vegetable oil as an ingredient, and which is closely monitored by FSANZ for safety.

What did the NZFS survey test?

In total, 100 oil and infant formula products were tested (44 oil products and 56 infant formula products). Half the products were sourced in Australia.

What did the survey find?

Levels of 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters were found to be generally consistent with, or lower than international data.

Because of survey limitations, for example the small number of samples of each type of oil and infant formula, it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions about levels in these products in the broader food supply.

Read the survey report.

FSANZ Risk assessment

Based on the findings of the survey, FSANZ has done a preliminary risk assessment on the levels of 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters in infant formula to ensure exposure in this vulnerable population is safe.

FSANZ's risk assessment indicated there are no public health concerns for estimated dietary exposures to infants from 3-MCPD esters at current exposure levels. For glycidyl esters, the estimated dietary exposures are within a range considered to be of possible concern, however the preliminary nature of the survey with non-representative sampling of infant formula and limited data points, limits the potential to draw any firm conclusions.

It's important to note this was a preliminary assessment only and, like other international agencies, FSANZ and NZFS agree that more research is needed to properly determine the level of risk these substances may pose to infants and all consumers. 

Read our preliminary risk assessment PDF (612 kb) | Word (194 kb)

Is infant formula safe?

Yes. Infant formula is the only safe alternative to breastmilk. The benefits of providing formula to infants far outweigh any potential health concerns associated with low levels of these contaminants in some formula products.

What is being done to manage levels of these contaminants?

Food regulatory and safety bodies around the world have known about 3-MCPD as a contaminant in various foods for many years.

FSANZ and NZFS have been involved in the development of the codex code of Practice for the reduction of 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters in refined oils and food products made with refined oils, especially infant formula. This code of Practice was adopted in 2019.

FSANZ has consulted with industry in the past on levels and mitigation measures, and industry has been encouraged to continue reducing levels to as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) by adopting an industry Toolbox (2016, BLL and FoodDrink Europe).

FSANZ continues to collaborate with international agencies, sharing data and information, with a view to identifying further mitigation measures. 

Why were these contaminants surveyed

There is evidence that the parent compounds glycidol and 3-MCPD (which are released from their fatty acid esters during digestion) can cause adverse effects in laboratory animals. There are no findings from human studies.