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Nutella Ingredient Linked To Cancer: Chocolate Spread Maker Fights Back

Update Date: Jan 12, 2017 10:31 AM EST

Nutella, one of the most popular chocolate spreads, is embroiled in controversy as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said that palm oil, one of its main ingredients, is a possible carcinogen.

The chocolate spread relies on palm oil for its smooth texture and long shelf life. However, in EFSA's new report, the agency deemed the oil as carcinogenic when it is processed at high temperatures of about 200°C.

EFSA said that when refining certain vegetable oils, they found that three carcinogens formed: glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD), and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD). In fact, the highest levels of these substances were found in palm oils and palm fats, followed by other oils and fats. It added that margarine, pastries, and cakes were the main sources of exposure to the substances, and did not directly mentioned "Nutella" or chocolate spreads.

"There is sufficient evidence that glycidol is genotoxic and carcinogenic, therefore the contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) Panel did not set a safe level for GE," Dr. Helle Knutsen, Chair of the CONTAM Panel, said in a press release by EFSA.

Now, Ferrero, Nutella's maker, has taken a public stand in defense of the ingredient that some other food companies in the country are boycotting. Since palm oil has been used in the product for years, changing to other substitutes, like sunflower oil, would change its character.

EFSA, however, do not have the power to make regulations despite the fact that the issue is under review by the European Commission. According to Health and Food Safety spokesman, Enrico Brivio, the guidance will be issued by the end of 2015 and the measures could include regulations to limit the level of GE in food products, but there will be no ban on the use of palm oil.

Ferrero, however, said that it uses an industrial process that combines a temperature of just below 200°C and extremely low pressure to minimize contaminants. It added that the company carried out hundreds of thousands of tests on contaminants in both the palm oil it uses and finished products, Reuters reports.

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