By Kuah Guan Oo
Pic by Azreen Awang
SERDANG, 20 Nov (UPM) – All refined cooking oil – be it corn, palm, olive, soya, coconut or groundnut oil – contained certain chloroester precursors that may be carcinogenic but a group of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) scientists have uncovered a process to remove these precursors when refining palm oil. .
The precursors are the well-known chloroesteris 3-monochloroester-1,2-diol (or 3-MCPD for short) and studies had found that free 3-MCPD is carcinogenic (or cancer-causing) in animal studies, said Prof Dr Tan Chin Ping, head of the research team.
He said a certain percentage of refined palm oil is used in the manufacture of infant formulas, follow-up formula and baby food (for its palmitic acid) and unlike adults, these babies may not be able to eliminate the3-MCPD from the digestive system.
Prof Tan, who is the head of the Food Technology Department of the Faculty of Food Science and Technology, said they were able to reduce by 87.2% the 3-MCPD ester formation in refined palm oil by incorporating additional processing steps in the physical refining process prior to the deodorization step.
Oil palm fruits that are milled and processed for crude palm oil (CPO), all within a short period of time after harvesting, have the lowest level of the chloroester precursors and this high quality CPO is used to produce refined palm oil. This refined palm oil is used in the manufacture of the baby food without fear of the 3-MCPD factor.
“The 3-MCPD ester contamination is present in all refined oils like corn oil, soya bean oil, olive oil, coconut oil, groundnut oil and palm oil and it has become a new safety issue worldwide.
“Formed at elevated levels in refined oils, these chloroesters are reported in various food products including infant formula and baby food,” he said, adding that free 3-MCPD were also found to induce infertility and malfunction of certain organs in the animal studies.
The process discovered by his team involved the installation of an additional tanker in the refining machineries and it should be cost-efficient in the long term because the refined palm oil would have no problem with any safety standards that may be imposed by any government.
They have patented the process and they are up-scaling the process to produce refined palm oil that is almost free of 3-MCPD ester.
Prof Tan also said that although the process involved two additional steps, he and his team are currently working on reducing it to one step, with an eye to further enhancing the quality of the refined palm oil to meet other safety standards.
He explained that only the large companies have the means to get the fruit bunches to the palm mill for processing, all within a short period of time after harvesting.
But in the majority of the cases where about 177,000 independent smallholders account for about 14% of the planted acreage of oil palm in Malaysia, the difficult terrains, the lack of manpower and logistics make the delivery of the fruits to the palm mills slow and laborious.
“The longer it takes the fruit bunches to the palm mill for processing, the higher will the chloroester precursors be formed.
“And unless the chloroester precursors are removed, they would be turned into 3-MCPD ester during the deodorization stage of the refining process when the oil is heated to very high temperature to remove the smell,” he said.
He also said that studies have found that adults can get rid of the 3-MCPD ester formation in refined cooking oil in their digestive systems but infants cannot do so.
For this reason, the outcome of their research will provide a golden opportunity for the palm oil industry to produce a safe and quality refined palm oil.
The research finding was adjudged “the best of the best” at the Malaysia Innovation Expo(MIEXPO 2013) from 26 to 28 September, 2013. – UPM
For more information, please contact
Prof Tan Chin Ping
Tel: 603 8946 8355
43400 UPM Serdang
Selangor Darul Ehsan