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Processing Contaminants in Edible Oils: MCPD and Glycidyl Esters

Processing Contaminants in Edible Oils: MCPD and Glycidyl Esters

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Processing Contaminants in Edible Oils: MCPD and Glycidyl Esters

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Aug 15, 2015


This book discusses the current research on monochloropropanediol (MCPD) and glycidyl esters in edible oils. These potentially harmful contaminants are formed during the industrial processing of food oils during deodorization. The mechanisms of formation for these contaminants, as well as research identifying possible precursor molecules are reviewed. Strategies which have been used successfully to decrease the concentrations of these contaminants in edible oils are discussed, including the removal of precursor molecules before processing, modifications of deodorization protocol, and approaches for the removal of these contaminants after the completion of processing. Analytical strategies for accurate detection and quantitation of MCPD and glycidyl esters are covered, along with current information on their toxicological properties. This book serves as a single point of reference for the significant research related to these contaminants.
  • Details the mechanisms of formation for these contaminants and research identifying possible precursor molecules
  • Presents successful strategies to decrease the concentrations of these contaminants in edible oils
  • Includes the analytical strategies for accurate detection and quantitation of the contaminants along with their toxicological properties.
Aug 15, 2015

Über den Autor

Shaun MacMahon is a Research Chemist with the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in College Park, MD. After completing his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from New York University, Shaun worked as a Chemist with the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs in Jamaica, NY, before coming to CFSAN in 2009. His main interest is the application of mass spectrometry to address food safety issues. Shaun has been an active member of the American Oil Chemists’ Society since 2010 and has co-chaired the Trace Contaminants session at the AOCS Annual Meeting for the last three years.

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Processing Contaminants in Edible Oils - Shaun MacMahon




To improve consumer acceptance, edible oils are industrially processed by removing or modifying components that can negatively impact appearance, taste, and shelf stability. However, undesirable chemical changes can take place during the refining process. Fatty acid esters of 3-chloro-1,2-propanediol (3-MCPD), 2-chloro-1,3-propanediol (2-MCPD), and glycidol are heat-induced contaminants that are not present in virgin unrefined oils, but they can be produced during high temperature deodorization (iřík and van Duijn, 2011; Matthäus et al., 2011; Pudel et al., 2011). There is evidence that 3-MCPD esters are formed from iron chloride and/or natural organochlorines present in native oils (Destaillats et al., 2012a, Destaillats 2012b; Nagy et al., 2011). The predominant precursors and formation pathways for MCPD and glycidyl esters will be thoroughly reviewed in Chapter 1 of this text.


The fact that MCPD esters begin forming at 200 ºC makes mitigation difficult, as deodorizations are generally run at temperatures greater than 200 ºC (Destaillats, 2012a). Many factors contribute to the formation of MCPD and glycidyl esters. The growing conditions and harvesting of the palm fruit can have profound affects on an oil’s capacity to form contaminants. The extraction, washing, and processing steps that take place prior to deodorization can influence the formation of these toxicants during deodorization, as can the specifics of the deodorization scheme. It is also possible to remove MCPD and glycidyl esters using appropriate adsorbents or enzymes. Chapter 2 of this text discusses the optimization of all of these steps to reduce and eliminate the presence of these contaminants in refined edible oils.


Processed edible oils are commonly consumed worldwide and used in the production of infant formula, which highlights the need for accurate analytical methodology for their detection. Indirect approaches, requiring ester hydrolysis followed by derivatization and analysis by GC-MS, were the first methods developed to detect these MCPD and glycidyl esters (Divinová et al., 2004; Weiβhaar, 2008; Zelinková et al., 2006). It was these early methods that brought attention from industry and regulators to the presence of these contaminants in refined oils. However, the use of base-catalyzed hydrolyses was shown to be potentially unreliable, raising questions about the trustworthiness of indirect methodology (Haines et al., 2011; Kaze et al., 2011). Recently, the quality of these methods has improved greatly, and the application of indirect methodology to the analysis of MCPD and glycidyl esters will be covered in Chapter 3.

Partly in response to the lack of dependability of early indirect methodology, direct methods were developed for glycidyl esters (GEs) and 3-MCPD esters, through which contaminants are analyzed intact as they occur in processed oils. However, there are a number of issues that must be considered in the application of direct methodology; Chapters 4 and 5 will review the analysis of intact esters.


Free glycidol, 3-MCPD, and 2-MCPD all pose concerns from a food safety perspective. Glycidol is a genotoxic carcinogen that is probably carcinogenic to humans (IARC, 2000). According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, Germany (BfR), it should be kept at concentrations as low as are reasonably achievable in food (Bakhiya et al., 2011). Negative effects on kidneys and reproductive systems have been seen from 3-MCPD in toxicological studies (Cho et al., 2008), and it was classified by the European Scientific Committee on Food as a nongenotoxic threshold carcinogen (European Commission, 2001). There are toxicological concerns shown in limited studies related to 2-MCPD; one unpublished report showed that high doses affected striated muscles and the heart, as well as the kidneys and the liver in rats (Schilter et al., 2011).

Most toxicological work has been with the free forms of these contaminants, whereas research on the fatty acid esters that are formed in deodorized oils has begun more recently (Bakhiya et al., 2011; Buhrke et al., 2011; Schilter et al., 2011). Recent in vivo toxicological work has demonstrated that free 3-MCPD is liberated from the diester form in rats (Abraham et al., 2013) as is glycidol from glycidyl esters (Appel et al., 2013). Initial risk assessments conducted by the BfR have concluded that using a worst-case scenario, infants who are fed only commercial infant formulas could potentially ingest amounts of glycidol and 3-MCPD exceeding the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Heath Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) recommended maximum tolerable daily intake levels (Buhrke et al., 2011). The full results of all toxicological studies on these contaminants will be discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.


In response to the detection of 3-MCPD in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy sauce, and baked goods, many international organizations addressed the issue in those matrices. The JECFA recommended a maximum tolerable daily intake for 3-MCPD of 2 μg/kg body weight per day (WHO, 2002). The European Commission established a maximum level of 20 μg/kg (ppb) for 3-MCPD in hydrolyzed vegetable protein and soy sauce (European Commission, 2006), which was also adopted by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (FSANZ, 2003). The Codex Alimentarius adopted a maximum level of 400 μg/kg (ppb) in liquid condiments containing acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein (excluding naturally fermented soy sauce) in 2008 (Codex Alimentarius, 2012). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Compliance Policy Guide states that hydrolyzed vegetable protein that contains 3-MCPD at levels greater than 1 μg/g (ppm) is not generally recognized as safe (GRAS), and therefore is an unsafe food additive (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2008). Health Canada also set a maximum contaminant concentration of 1 μg/g (ppm) in Asian-style sauces (Health Canada, 2012). No specific regulations regarding MCPD or glycidyl ester concentrations in processed oils have been published at this time.


Abraham, K., Appel, K. E., Berger-Preiss, E., Apel, E., Gerling, S., Mielke, H., Creutzenberg, O., Lampen, A. Relative Oral Bioavailability of 3-MCPD from 3-MCPD Fatty Acid Esters in Rats. Arch. Toxicol.. 2013; 87:649–659.

Appel, K. E., Abraham, K., Berger-Preiss, E., Hansen, T., Apel, E., Schuchardt, S., Vogt, C., Bakhiya, N., Creutzenberg, O., Lampen, A. Relative Oral Bioavailability of Glycidol from Glycidyl Fatty Acid Esters in Rats. Arch. Toxicol.. 2013; 87:1649–1659.

Bakhiya, N., Abraham, K., Gürtler, R., Appel, K. E., Lampen, A. Toxicological Assessment of 3-Chloropropane-1,2-diol and Glycidol Fatty Acid Esters in Food. Mol. Nutr. Food Res.. 2011; 55:509–521.

Buhrke, T., Weißhaar, R., Lampen, A. Absorption and Metabolism of the Food Contaminant 3-Chloro-1,2-propanediol (3-MCPD) and Its Fatty Acid Esters by Human Intestinal Caco-2 Cells. Arch. Toxicol.. 2011; 85:1201–1208.

Cho, W. S., Han, B. S., Nam, K. T., Park, K., Choi, M., Kim, S. H., Jeong, J., Jang, D. D. Carcinogenicity Study of 3-Monochloropropane-1,2-diol in Sprague-Dawley Rats. Food Chem. Toxicol.. 2008; 46:3172–3177.

Codex Alimentarius. Codex General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Food and Feed, Codex Stan 193-1995; amended 2012. (accessed December 17, 2013).

Destaillats, F., Craft, B. D., Sandoz, L., Nagy, K. Formation Mechanisms of Monochloropropanediol (MCPD) Fatty Acid Diesters in Refined Palm (Elaeis guineensis) Oil and Related Fractions. Food Add. Contam. A.. 2012; 29:29–37.

Destaillats, F., Craft, B. D., Dubois, M. L., Nagy, K. Glycidyl Esters in Refined Palm (Elaeis guineensis) Oil and Related Fractions. Part I: Formation Mechanism. Food Chem.. 2012; 131:1391–1398.

Divinová, V., Svejkovská, B., Doležal, M., Velíšek, J., Determination of Free and Bound 3-Chloropropane-1,2-diol by Gas Chromatography with Mass Spectrometric Detection Using Deuterated 3-Chloropropane-1,2-diol as Internal Standard. Czech. J. Food Sci. 2004; 22:182–189

European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate. Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on 3-Monochloro-propane-1,2-diol (3-MCPD), 2001; . [(accessed December 17, 2013).].

European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate. Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006: Setting Maximum Levels for Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs, 2006; . [(accessed December 17, 2013).].

FSANZ, Chloropropanols in Food, An Analysis of the Public Health Risk. Technical Report Series No. 15. Food Standards, Australia/New Zealand, 2003. [Report Chloropropanol Report 11 Sep 03.doc (accessed December 17, 2013).].

Haines, T. D., Adlaf, K. J., Pierceall, R. M., Lee, I., Venkitasubramanian, P., Collison, M. Direct Determination of MCPD Fatty Acid Esters and Glycidyl Fatty Acid Esters in Vegetable Oils by LC-TOF-MS. J. Am. Chem. Soc.. 2011; 88:1–14.

Health Canada. Canadian Standards (Maximum Levels) for Various Chemical Contaminants in Foods, modified June 28, 2012; . [(accessed December 17, 2013).].

iřík, K., van Duijn, G. An Initial Study on the Formation of 3-MCPD Esters during Oil Refining. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol.. 2011; 113:374–379.

IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) Some Industrial Chemicals. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk of Chemicals to Humans; 77. International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, 2000:469–486.

Kaze, N., Sato, H., Yamamoto, H., Watanabe, Y. Bidirectional Conversion between 3-Monochloro-1,2-propanediol and Glycidol in Course of the Procedure of DGF Standard Methods. J. Am. Oil Chem. Soc.. 2011; 88:1143–1151.

Matthäus, B., Pudel, F., Fehling, P., Vosmann, K. L., Freudenstein, A. Strategies for the Reduction of 3-MCPD Esters and Related Compounds in Vegetable Oils. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol.. 2011; 113:380–386.

Nagy, K., Sandoz, L., Craft, B., Destaillats, F. Mass-Defect Filtering of Isotope Signatures to Reveal the Source of Chlorinated Palm Oil Contaminants. Food Add. Contam.. 2011; 28:1492–1500.

Pudel, F., Benecke, P., Fehling, P., Freudenstein, A., Matthäus, B., Schwaf, A. On the Necessity of Edible Oil Refining and Possible Sources of 3-MCPD and Glycidyl Esters. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol.. 2011; 113:368–373.

Schilter, B., Scholz, G., Seefelder, W. Fatty Acid Esters of Chloropropanols and Related Compounds: Toxicological Aspects. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol.. 2011; 113:309–313.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Guidance Levels for 3-MCPD (3-Chloro-1,2-propanediol) in Acid-Hydrolyzed Protein and Asian-Style Sauces. Compliance Policy Guide Section 500.500, March 14, 2008; . [(accessed December 17, 2013).].

Weißhaar, R., Determination of Total 3-Chloropropane-1,2-diol (3-MCPD) in Edible Oils by Cleavage of MCPD Esters with Sodium Methoxide. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2008; 110:183–186

WHO, Safety Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants, 3-Chloro-1,2-propanediol,. WHO Food Additives Series 48 2002; . [(accessed December 17, 2013).].

Zelinková, V., Svejkovská, B., Doležal, M., Velíšek, J. Fatty Acid Esters of 3-Chloropropane-1,2-diol in edible oils. Food Add. Contam.. 2006; 23:1290–1298.


Formation Mechanisms

Brian D. Craft and Frédéric Destaillats,     Nestlé Research Center, Food Science and Technology Department, Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Lausanne, Switzerland


Since the publication of Zelinkova et al. (2006) and the heightened awareness of fatty esters of monochloropropanediol (MCPD-FE) in refined edible oils, the circumstances surrounding their formation have been subject to large amounts of speculation. For instance, some researchers speculated that precursors for MCPD-FE formation (e.g., chlorine and diacylglycerols) are present in partially refined oils (Franke et al., 2009). Other researchers suspected that the refining process results in the uncontrolled introduction of certain compounds to the oils (e.g., inorganic chlorides in the stripping stream), so it should be the first place to explore mitigation strategies (Pudel et al., 2011). Further, amidst analytical developments in MCPD-FE quantification, another family of compounds was discovered in refined edible oils, namely the fatty esters of glycidol (G-FE). G-FE were found to be partially responsible for inflation of the results of MCPD-FE quantifications due to the generation of artifacts during sample preparation before analysis using indirect methods (Weißhaar and Perz, 2010).

Despite these early hurdles, some recent breakthroughs were made by Nagy et al. (2011) and Destaillats et al. (2012a, 2012b) on the formation mechanisms of both MCPD-FE and G-FE during palm oil refining. Within this chapter we will take a focused look at the status of the literature to date as it pertains to the formation pathways of MCPD-FE and G-FE in refined edible oils. Critical topics will be covered, including the most prevalent precursor compounds and detailed formation mechanisms responsible for the generation of these process contaminants during oil production and refining. Because both MCPD-FE and G-FE have been found in the highest average abundance in palm oil, the majority of the research reviewed herein involves crude palm oil production and refining.

MCPD Esters


Chlorine is ubiquitous in nature. Thus, one can speculate about a wide variety of chlorine sources, whether organic or inorganic, as potential precursor compounds to MCPD-FE formation during edible oil production. Further, a host of lipid types and compositions (e.g., acylglycerols, phospholipids, glycolipids) are available in the raw materials used to produce edible oils. Many of these lipids could theoretically interact with chlorine sources and result in the formation of MCPD-FE during oil refining. The critical precursors responsible, however, are mostly dependent on the oil type, quality, and, to a lesser degree, the circumstances of manufacture, as will be described below. Given that refined palm oil specifically has been shown to contain significant levels of MCPD-FE (2.7 mg/kg) (Weißhaar, 2011), it has been exclusively used as a model matrix in the literature.

The first question often raised regarding MCPD-FE precursors is the origin of chlorine involved in the MCPD-FE reaction during oil refining and why it is potentially more abundant in crude palm oil (CPO) in comparison to other crude vegetable oils (Matthäus, 2012). Recently, Nagy et al. (2011) demonstrated that many sources of covalently bound inorganic chlorine exist at ppm (mg/kg) levels in crude palm oil, including FeCl3, FeCl2, MgCl2, and CaCl2. Further, a pool (n = 300) of organic monochlorinated compounds was also found and it appears to undergo a transformation throughout the stages of oil refining with certain compounds being formed while others decompose over time. In order to elucidate the composition of the more predominant chlorine donor compounds, Nagy et al. (2011) used LC-MSn in the framework of model experiments. Therein the authors identified a specific family of chlorinated compounds present in both the lipids extracted from hand-picked Malaysian palm fruits and commercially procured CPO samples. Figure 1.1, taken from Nagy et al. (2011), shows the proposed structure and chemical formulas of this monochlorinated family of compounds. The authors suggest that given their structural similarities to phytosphingosines, it is perhaps more likely that the chlorine donors identified are endogenous plant metabolites as opposed to chlorinated contaminants introduced to the oil palm’s direct environment during growth and maturation. Extrapolating from this hypothesis, one might tend to the logic that the raw materials intended for production of each edible vegetable oil have their own reactive-chlorine pool capable of donating chlorine during oil refining and ultimately resulting in MCPD-FE generation.

Figure 1.1 Proposed structure and chemical formulas of an organochlorine family of compounds found in crude palm oil. (Reprinted with permission from Nagy et al., 2011.)

In terms of the most predominant lipid precursors of MCPD-FE in edible oils, Zelinkova et al. (2006) proposed that there may be a link between the content of diacylglycerols (DAGs) in refined edible oils and their MCPD-FE levels. This assertion was likely due to the fact that the highest MCPD-FE levels were observed within the fruit pulp oils analyzed. Fruit pulp oils, such as olive and palm, are known for having high DAG contents compared to seed oils, due to the greater prevalence of lipolytic reactions during harvest (Dijkstra and Segers, 2007). This correlation, however, has been disproved in recent literature (Hrncˇirˇík and van Duijn, 2011; Matthäus et al., 2011). Although DAGs could potentially react with chlorine donors during oil refining and result in the formation of MCPD-FE, they are not the most critical lipid precursors of these process contaminants. Further, lipids such as monoacylglycerols (MAGs), phospholipids, and glycolipids are largely removed during oil degumming and are not present during the later stages of oil refining (Dijkstra and Segers, 2007).

Because the bulk of MCPD-FE have been shown to be generated during oil deodorization (Franke et al., 2009; Ramli et al., 2011), the entirety of the aforementioned lipid classes is not expected to be greatly involved in MCPD-FE formation reactions. This of course leaves the triacylglycerols (TAGs) up for consideration. TAGs can represent more than 90–95% (v/v) of refined vegetable oils, whether pressed from nuts, seeds, or fruit pulps. TAGs are, therefore, the most logical critical lipid precursor available for MCPD-FE formation during oil deodorization. The results of in vitro thermal reaction experiments carried out by Destaillats et al. (2012b) appear to confirm this hypothesis. Destaillats et al. (2012b) demonstrated in controlled conditions that TAGs, not DAGs, are preferentially reacting with chlorine donors to form

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