Toxic chemical in plastic pallets could be leaching into food, says group

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bisphenol a

The use of plastic pallets containing the chemical decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca) that are used to ship, cool and store fruit and vegetables should be halted on safety grounds, a US environmental organisation has said.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has urged the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to outlaw use of plastic pallets made with Deca to transport food products because the substance may be leaching into food. The group said the substance, which is a flame retardant, is a known neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen.

The body’s concerns come as public anxiety mounts over use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in hard plastic and canned food containers. BPA has been banned in a number of states and its current safe status is under review.

Significant levels

EWG senior vice president for communications Richard Wiles warned FDA commissioner Dr Margaret Hamburg in a letter this week that significant levels of Deca could build up during the standard food industry practice of “hydro-cooling”​ when stacked pallets filled with fruit and vegetables are submerged or when water is dripped over them. Because the water is recycled repeatedly during this process, the concentration of Deca increases and opens the possibility for leaving a residue of the chemical on food, said the EWG. It said preliminary studies strongly suggested that Deca leached from the pallets during this procedure.

“Based on an EWG review of publicly available information it appears likely that Deca treated pallets are being used in ways that could contaminate food with Deca without the necessary pre-market approval,”​ wrote Wiles.

He added: “Food contaminated with Deca used in plastic pallets without pre-market approval could be deemed adulterated under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, Sec. 402 (21 USC 342).”

The group raised the regulatory concern after receiving written confirmation from Dr. Elizabeth Sánchez of the FDA’S Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition that Deca is “not authorized”​ as a component of plastic pallets used in the hydro-cooling produce. She said that FDA required pre-market approval for the chemical “to be used in contact with food.”

Call for action

In his letter to Hamburg, Wiles said: “Given the agency’s decision that Deca-treated plastic food pallets are not authorized for use in hydro-cooling, the FDA must take action to ensure that they are not, in fact, used for this purpose.”

The EWG said that millions of pallets, each containing over 3.4 pounds (1.5kg) of the chemical, are currently being used to transport food goods for a number of major companies. It added: “This widespread use, if true, creates a significant opportunity for food contamination with Deca”.

In a separate statement, Wiles said: “This is yet another example of our tattered food and chemical safety net. Highly toxic chemicals creep into the food supply while no one in government is paying any attention.” contacted the FDA’s Centre for Food Safety and Nutrition for a response but had received no reply by the time of publication.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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