Ferrero, the Italian confectionary firm that makes Nutella hazelnut spread, has launched an advertising campaign assuring the public that the palm oil used in its signature product is safe. This is in response to a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report that claimed high-temperature palm oil processing generates a potentially carcinogenic contaminant. Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told a Reuters reporter that, “Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product. It would be a step backward.”  Ferrero uses approximately 185,000 tons of palm oil a year, all of it certified sustainable and traceable. The company relies on Malaysia to produce this wholesome oil.

Ferrero’s palm oil is considered safe
According to the EFSA report, palm oil refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius produces more of this potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils. It did not, however, recommend consumers stop consuming palm oil. It also said further study was needed to assess the level of risk.

In ads filmed at the Ferrero’s northern Italy factory, Tapella says, “The palm oil used by Ferrero is safe because it comes from freshly squeezed fruits and is processed at controlled temperatures.”  

Ferrero told Reuters that the process takes longer and costs 20 percent more than high-temperature refining, but it decreases the contaminant to a level so low that scientific instruments have difficulty detecting it.

A food safety expert’s opinion
This contaminant, known as 3-MCPD, is present in all vegetable oils. It was first detected more than 35 years ago. According to food safety expert Dr. Roger Clemens, the EFSA report does not put its data into context. “There is not any direct evidence that current 3-MCPD levels in foods and at their typical consumption amounts, trigger adverse health effects,” he wrote. In fact, he noted that EFSA did not recommend dietary changes based on its findings.

He also said that the data indicates that fewer 3-MCPD compounds are present in Malaysian palm oil than that which is processed outside of Malaysia. “The best quality red palm oil is processed using molecular distillation processes, and the levels of 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters are almost non-existent in such products.”