BBC Reports: Chemicals in Cereal Packaging Seeps Into Cereal

It's tough for packaging companies to get it right these days. Nick Higham at BBC News wrote an interesting piece, published today, about how recycled cardboard packaging contains chemicals that seep into cereal and pose health risks to consumers.  The culprit is recycled newspapers in the packaging -- not in the paper, but the ink.

The article says that leading food manufacturers are changing their packaging because of health concerns about boxes made from recycled cardboard.   Recycled newspapers in that cardboard contain mineral oils used to make the ink for the printing.  OSHA - for a start - says that mineral oils (in mist form, for instance) can be dangerous to humans: certain mineral oils are carcinogenic in humans [Hathaway et al. 1991], see bottom of page for more from OSHA.

Higham's BBC article notes a study for the German food ministry last year spanned a sample of 119 products bought from German supermarkets.  The results:
Mineral oils passed easily from the recycled newspaper-based packaging through many of the inner bags used to keep food dry and fresh.  The longer the food was on the shelves, the higher the higher the exposure.  The scientists at the helm of the study 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 that in the long run they would probably exceed the limit 50 times on average and many will exceed it several hundred times."
Kellogg's - the trusted children's cereal brand - said it was working with suppliers on new packaging. Their hope is to not compromise their environmental compliance but to find lower levels of mineral oil.  Kellogg's is also looking at alternative inner liners for its packets.  Mind you, as far as we know a consumer would have to be exposed over long periods of time for ill effects to show.  But chemicals, health, and regulatory compliance are a game of inches, or rather, of micro-amounts.

Some paper and packaging companies have begun using supply chain collaboration software for product stewardship in packaging.  Some software, like Actio's Material Disclosure product, automates communication with suppliers about chemicals in supplied materials, e.g. paper products and inks.  The software tracks data and creates threshold amount alerts, reports, and need-to-know hazardous information.

This is one of those back-door problems with insufficient supply chain data sharing.  What solutions are there besides software?  A: Crystal ball.  Any other ideas? 

Read Higham's article here:

Solution: read about software called Material Disclosure for supplier communication regarding chemicals in a supplied material, including packaging and printing supplies:

OSHA's comments on mineral oils, mist form, for reference:

Effects on Humans: Exposure to mineral oil mists can cause eye, skin, and upper respiratory tract irritation as well as central nervous system effects in humans. In addition, certain mineral oils are carcinogenic in humans [Hathaway et al. 1991]. Exposure to mineral oil mists can result in localized irritation of the mucous membranes, and if exposures are excessive, headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness may result [Genium 1985]. Liquid petrolatum is essentially innocuous when it comes in contact with human corneas [Grant 1986]. A case of lipoid pneumonia was reported in a worker following a high-exposure to mineral oil with inadequate ventilation [ACGIH 1991; Hathaway et al. 1991]. Many studies confirm that poorly refined mineral oil can induce skin and scrotal cancers after prolonged, repeated, and heavy direct contact with the skin [ACGIH 1991]. In addition, repeated dermal exposures may result in dermatitis [Genium 1985]. Aspiration of mineral oil mists into the lungs can result in blue coloration of the skin, rapid heartbeat, fever, and chemical pneumonia possibly followed by a secondary infection [Genium 1985; Sittig 1991]. Ingestion will cause a burning sensation in the mouth, throat, and stomach followed by vomiting, diarrhea, and belching [Sittig 1991]. IARC has concluded that there is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of untreated and mildly treated oils in humans, but inadequate evidence for highly-refined oils [IARC 1987].