The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has issued a scientific opinion assessing the human health risks of free and esterified 3- and 2-monochloropropane-1, 2-diol (MCPD) and glycidyl esters (GE) in food. According to CONTAM, which considered 7,175 occurrence data, “esters of 3- and 2-MCPD and glycidyl esters were found at the highest levels in palm oil/fat, but most vegetable oil/fats contain substantial quantities.” The panel warned that these substances—which form when refining vegetable oils at high temperatures—pose potential health concerns “for average consumers of these foods in all young age groups, and for high consumers in all age groups.”

“There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic, therefore the CONTAM Panel did not set a safe level for GE,” said CONTAM Chair Helles Knutsen in a May 3, 2016, press release. “The exposure to GE of babies consuming solely infant formula is a particular concern as this is up to ten times what would be considered of low concern for public health.”

Setting a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.8 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day (µg/kg bw/day) for 3-MCPD and its fatty acid esters, the opinion finds that, in addition to palm and vegetable oils, margarine and infant formula, the foods most likely to contribute to 3- and 2-MCPD and glycidol exposure for various age groups included cookies, pastries and cakes, fried or baked potato products, fried or roast meat, and chocolate spreads. Although manufacturer efforts halved the amount of GE in palm oil and fats between 2010 and 2015, CONTAM notes that “estimated average and high exposures to 3-MCPD from both forms for young age groups including adolescents (up to 18 years of age) exceed the TDI and are a potential concern for health.”