Chlorinated compounds such as sphingolipid-based organochlorine compounds are precursors for the formation of 3-monochlororopanediol (3-MCPD) esters in palm oil. This study evaluates the effects of several factors within the palm oil supply chain on the levels of sphingolipid-based organochlorine, which in turn may influence the formation of 3-MCPD esters during refining. These factors include application of inorganic chlorinated fertiliser in the oil palm plantation, bruising and degradation of oil palm fruits after harvest, recycling of steriliser condensate as water for dilution of crude oil during oil palm milling, water washing of palm oil and different refining conditions. It was observed that bruised and degraded oil palm fruits showed higher content of sphingolipid-based organochlorine than control. In addition, recycling steriliser condensate during milling resulted in elevated content of sphingolipid-based organochlorine in palm oil. However, the content of sphingolipid-based organochlorine compounds was reduced by neutralisation, degumming and bleaching steps during refining. Although water washing of crude palm oils (CPO) prior to refining did not reduce the content of sphingolipid-based organochlorine, it did reduce the formation of 3-MCPD esters through the removal of water-soluble chlorinated compounds. It was found that the use of inorganic chlorinated fertiliser in plantations did not increase the content of chlorinated compounds in oil palm fruits and extracted oil, and hence chlorinated fertiliser does not seem to play a role in the formation of 3-MCPD esters in palm oil. Overall, this study concluded that lack of freshness and damage to the fruits during transport to mills, combined with water and oil recycling in mills are the major contributors of chlorinated precursor for 3-MCPD esters formation in palm oil.
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