Last updated on 15 December 2011

Survey of printing inks and mineral oils

Food Survey Information Sheet 03/11


Printing inks and related materials, such as primers, lacquers and varnishes (subsequently referred to as ‘printing inks’) are used on food labels and packaging, such as ingredients listings. Printing inks contain a number of components such as colorants and pigments, binders (materials that hold the printing inks together), additives (e.g. plasticisers which make the ink flexible within the packaging) and photoinitiators (chemicals used in printing inks to speed up the drying process of the ink using ultra violet light).

Mineral oil-based inks have previously been used for food packaging and continue to be primarily used to print newspapers. Recycled newspapers can be used in the manufacture of carton-board food packaging materials. If foodstuffs are packaged in such materials then, depending on the overall type of packaging, mineral oils may migrate into these foodstuffs.

The Food Standards Agency has an ongoing programme of surveys looking at the components of food packaging and articles that may migrate from these materials into food.

The fourth survey in this programme looked at whether there was any migration of components from printing inks used on carton-board packaging into food.

The FSA also looked at whether there were any mineral oils, which are found in some printing inks and adhesives, present in some of the carton board samples taken for this survey.

Key findings

  • Eighty four* of the 350 samples tested contained one or more of the selected ink components.
  • Benzophenone (a photoinitiator) was detected in 37 (11%) of the samples. There was a reduction in the number of samples containing benzophenone compared to the FSA survey carried out in 2006.
  • Other samples contained mixtures of one or more of 1-hydroxycyclohexyl phenyl ketone, ethyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoate, 2,2-dimethoxy-2-phenylacetophenone, methyl-2-benzoylbenzoate, 2-ethylhexyl-4-dimethylaminobenzoate and 4-phenylbenzophenone.
  • Some of the packaging materials contained mineral oils and the levels found were similar to those reported in previous published literature. MOSH (mineral oils saturated hydrocarbons) was detected in all 51 samples tested. Concentrations of MOAH (mineral oils aromatic hydrocarbons) exceeded the limit of detection in 17 of the 51 samples tested.

* Figure amended 15 December 2011


The FSA carried out a risk assessment on the findings from this survey and did not identify any specific food safety concerns.

The risk assessment took into account available toxicological data and the published EFSA opinion on benzophenone.

The FSA’s advice is that there is no need for consumers to change their eating habits with respect to food that has been packaged in new or recycled carton-board.

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