Beyond the MOSH/MOAH Hump

In Europe, food contamination by Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons (MOSH) and Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOAH) is a growing concern and one that is starting to gain attention in North America. There is not enough data yet to know for sure if all MOSH and MOAH contamination is harmful, but some MOSH has been proven carcinogenic, and some MOAH have caused complications in lab mice and selective build-up in the human body. In order to better understand the effects of these hydrocarbons, it is first important to determine the presence and types of MOSH and MOAH in food samples.


MOSH and MOAH contamination can come from a variety of sources. Sometimes, we add them directly to the food as coating or anti-dust agents through food-grade oils. However, other sources can include packaging and food contact material (FCM); contamination, such as from diesel, kerosene, or motor oil; lubricants, cleaning products, and engine oils; pesticides; veterinary medical products; or through the transport and environment.


With all of these possible sources, identifying the source of contamination in your sample becomes vital; you can’t fix a problem you can’t identify.

In 1989, the first study finding mineral oil contamination using LC-GC analysis was publicized. This discovery was found entirely by chance in an analysis of hazelnuts. In 1991, the first study on MOSH contamination was published, and the characteristic mineral oil “hump” started being noticed instead of nice, clear separation.


In 2008 and 2009, high contamination of MOAH was found due to the migration of oils from cardboard. This reached the public and raised their concerns, leading to the development of a new method that included MOAH in analyses of mineral oil contamination. Over the years since, numerous scandals about MOSH and MOAH contamination kept cropping up, with the most recent being from October 2019, when mineral oil contamination was found in baby milk.

Unfortunately, there still isn’t really a completely reliable and generally approved method for the determination of MOSH and MOAH in such difficult matrices, leading to a high level of false positives. How, then, can we know what contamination is in our food samples and where it is coming from?

Continue learning from Giorgia Purcaro in her recent webinar: GCxGC TOFMS/FID: A Journey Beyond the MOSH&MOAH Hump in Food Determination.

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