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No place for plasticizers in edible oil!

31/2005, 28.09.2005

BfR expressly calls on manufacturers to identify and close off input paths

In an article entitled "Dirty Gold" in the October issue of its magazine "test", Stiftung Warentest reports on the results of a study of "native extra" olive oil. Besides other quality shortcomings, the testers also detected plasticizers in some of the samples examined. Four substances were analysed, including the one most frequently used for this purpose, diethyl hexyl phthalate, in short DEHP and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP). Up to now, the cause of the contamination has not been identified. In its risk assessment BfR comes to the conclusion that no harmful effect on health is to be expected from the short-term consumption of olive oils containing plasticizers even if the tolerable daily dose is exceeded. However, damage to health can no longer be ruled out in the case of longer-term consumption of highly contaminated oil. "We are worried about the detected amounts particularly as plasticizers are taken in from many other sources, too", explained Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, "There’s no place for plasticizers in olive oil." BfR, therefore, urgently calls on manufacturers to identify and close off the input paths that do not seem to include packaging in this case. This recommendation applies equally to all other edible oils which have a similar level of contamination.

Plasticizers keep synthetic products supple. They are used in so many areas of daily life that the term “ubiquitous occurrence” is used. This means that the consumer frequently comes into contact with them. The phthalate, DEHP, is one of the most frequently used plasticizers. It has a low acute toxicity. The substance is not classified as mutagenic. Depending on dose DEHP can, however, have a damaging effect on testicles, kidneys and liver. In animal experiments DEHP impairs the reproductive ability and damages the sexual organs of male offspring. DIDP is only reprotoxic at higher levels. The main area of concern is its damaging effect on the liver. For both substances the European Food Safety Authority recently set a Tolerable Daily Intake, TDI. DEHP has a TDI of 0.05 milligram per kilogram body weight (mg/kg bw). For DIDP and another plasticizer, diiosononyl phthalate (DINP) a so-called “group TDI” of 0.15 mg/kg body weight was set.

A consumer weighing 60 kg already completely exhausts the TDI value for DEHP by taking only 40 g (roughly 2 tablespoons) of the olive oil that was found to have the highest level of contamination of 75 mg/kg in the tests by Stiftung Warentest. As it can be assumed that the same consumer also takes in DEHP from numerous other sources, realistically speaking he would already exceed the tolerable daily intake at lower portions. Given the 100-fold safety margin observed when setting a TDI, damage to health is not to be expected from any short-term exceedance. However, if the TDI is exceeded over a longer period, damage to health can no longer be safely ruled out.

BfR already pointed out in August 2003 that the average daily intake of DEHP may have been considerably underestimated because input via the food path had not been sufficiently taken into account in the assessment on the European level. The latest studies by Stiftung Warentest confirm this assumption. BfR upholds the demand it made at that time to identify the main sources of contamination and to reduce exposure in the short term.  The Institute points out that consumers can scarcely influence their DEHP intake themselves. They can avoid the olive oils found to have the highest level of contamination in the Stiftung Warentest studies.  But other oils may have a similar level of contamination. The BfR recommendation, therefore, expressly applies to all manufacturers of edible oils.

Further information on this subject can be accessed by entering diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP) in the search box on the BfR website (



Date Title Size
Stellungnahme des BfR
Weichmacher DEHP: Tägliche Aufnahme höher als angenommen? 39.5 KB


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