For the last few years, food industry technologists, chemists, regulatory agencies and others have discussed the health implications of potentially toxic 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters (GE) in the world’s food supply. In February 2020, the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) held a 2-day summit to enable palm oil producing countries to share insights and information on reducing the presence of these chemicals in palm oil. 

CPOPC summit participants learned the most effective and cost-efficient technologies to reduce 3-MCPD and GE levels in various stages of palm oil production: upstream, midstream and downstream.

3-MCPD is not found in raw palm oil but may occur when the oil is heated above 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit), a process that may happen during food production. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reported that Malaysian palm oil contains fewer contaminants than palm oil produced in other countries.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council has been studying this issue and is working with plantations owners, millers, refiners and end-users to help them adopt production and processing technologies that further reduce or eliminate contaminants such as 3-MCPD. According to MPOC CEO Datuk Kalyana Sundram, “In the near future, palm oil produced in Malaysia will be free of these contaminants.”

What are 3-MCPD and GE? 

“3-MCPD esters and GEs are heat-induced contaminants of edible oils in the presence of chlorine. These compounds are found in a wide spectrum of foods and appear to develop further during product storage, depending on the environmental temperatures,” explain Roger Clemens, DrPH, FIFT, CFS, FASN, FACN, CNS, FIAFST and Peter Pressman, MD, PhD, FACN. The palm oil industry is working to standardize analytical methods used to test for these contaminants as well as production processes to reduce or eliminate their presence. 

CSPO Watch, a group created to monitor the worldwide production of certified sustainable palm oil, recently asked Dr. Sundram about issues related to 3-MCPD including a report from the University of California Riverside connected consumption of soybean oil with autism, Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression. 

“Personally, the report from the University of California is an eye opener in that it has identified potential health issues with over consumption of high linoleic (polyunsaturated) fatty acids including that in soybean oil,” replied Dr. Sundram. “Further studies would be required to see if it actually has the same effects on humans. In terms of human health and how food manufacturers respond to this study, it is too early to tell. The FDA decision on trans fats for example, took multiple studies and many years of intense clinical and dietary trials before it was confirmed that trans fats overall are bad for human health. Even with such convincing evidence legislation, prescribing safe to zero levels of trans fatty acids in our food chain is still not in place globally.” 

He added, “The European concerns on 3 MPCDE in vegetable oils however, has moved rapidly. These are seen as contaminants in all oils and fats, not just palm oil. The EU through EFSA has moved forward to prescribe levels of these contaminants in all oils and fats. We have taken these very seriously since the industry will not ever compromise on the safety and health of our consumers. All said and done Malaysia through its Ministry of Primary Industries has indicated agreement to adopt the levels prescribed by the EU and will target to progressively further reduce such contaminants to the lowest levels possible where it will be on par with or better than all oils and fats.”

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