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What do we know about 3-MCPD and Glycidyl esters in formulas?

What do we know about 3-MCPD and Glycidyl esters in formulas?

What are they?

There has been increased news in the last few years about impurities in nutrient milk formulas for children, which may be a health and safety issue. During routine testing, two types of chemicals were identified, called (1) 3-monochloro-1,2-propanediol (3-MCPD) esters (3-MCPDEs) and (2) glycidyl esters (GEs). These chemicals are formed during the steps of making a formula, so they are often called “byproducts”.

How are they formed?

These chemicals have been known about for decades in the food industry. When milk formulas are made, all the main ingredients, including the milk proteins, carbohydrates and oils are combined together in large batches, before they are put into tins. To do this, the ingredients have to be heated to high temperatures, to dry them out. This causes them to break down, and what is left over are small amounts of 3-MCPDE’s and GE’s from the oils. These then end up in the tins.

Are they a health concern?

Results from non-human research studies in the past have shown that 3-MPCDE’s and GE’s can be absorbed by the body, with toxic effects. These include damage seen in the liver, kidney, reproductive organs, brain and immune system.

While this may sound alarming, the studies were done in a controlled way and used amounts that were much higher than what was found in formula products. Also, there are currently no human studies. But these results were still concerning for child health.

Are their safety limits?

Yes, but not all countries have them. The World Health Organization (WHO) and European Food safety Association (EFSA) currently have the following daily limits:

Tolerable limits in humans (3-MCPDE’s):

  • 3-MCPDE’s:

    - 4 µg/kg body weight per day (WHO)
    
    - 2 µg/kg body weight per day (EFSA)
    

These safety levels were estimated based on amounts that may be present in typical infant and toddler diets.

Maximal levels in formulas (European Union EU-2018/290):

  • 3-MCPDE’s:

    - 20 µg/kg of powder
    
  • GE’s:

    - 50 µg/kg of powder
    

How were they discovered in formulas?

Between 2013-2016, the United States FDA tested 98 different infant formulas and worked out that levels were equivalent to tolerable limits of 7-10 µg/kg for 3-MCPDE, which was about double the WHO limit of 4 µg/kg/body weight/day.

More recently, in 2020, the Consumer Council of Hong Kong tested and found 3-MPCDE’s 15 popular brands of formula ranged from 13-120 µg/kg of powder, which was still greater than the cut off (20 µg/kg ). So there appears to a lot of room for improvement.

What next?

The risk of 3-MCPD and GE remains an important consideration for nutrient milk formulas. Especially for infants and toddlers who are using them as a sole source of nutrition. As awareness grows, more widespread testing in line with the safety limits will hopefully mean safer formulas our newest generation.

Article supplied by Little Étoile.