Supermarkets quizzed on plastic food racks over decabromodiphenyl ether health fears

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety

An environmental group has urged dozens of major US supermarket chains to stop using plastic storage racks on concerns they may contain a toxic chemical that could leach into food.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said it believes the plastic storage frames contain decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), which the organisation says poses a health threat. Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway were among more than 30 top retailers sent a letter asking whether they use the plastic racks to hold food and, if so, calling on them to suspend the practice.

Health concerns

The action is part of a campaign by the green body to highlight what it considers to be the hazards posed by Deca, which is used as a flame retardant on plastic pallets used to transport food and other goods. The group claimed there was “growing concern” ​over use of the chemical in plastic pallets and racks. The EWG said it believed use of plastic pallets to transport food was widespread and, if true, created “a significant opportunity for food contamination with Deca”. ​The chemical is toxic and is suspected of being carcinogenic,​ it said.

In June, the EWG wrote to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking that use of Deca be banned over fears the chemical could leach into food during the process known as hydro-cooling. This involves submerging stacked pallets filled with fruits or vegetables in water or by dripping water over the pallets.

Plea to supermarkets

In its letter to supermarkets and grocers earlier this week the body re-iterated those worries.

Preliminary studies strongly suggest that Deca leaches from pallets into the cooling water,” ​said the EWG letter to top supermarket executives. “Because water is recycled numerous times during the hydro-cooling process, considerable levels of Deca residue could be left on hydro-cooled produce.”

It continued: “We are writing to ask that you determine whether or not you or your suppliers are currently using plastic pallets, and if so, we urge you to immediately stop the use of these pallets by you or your suppliers until proper FDA approvals are received.”

However, plastic pallet producer Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) has rejected the EWG's allegations, saying its product is entirely safe and that no leaching occurs. The company said its pallets have been authorised for transportation use and it challenged claims that Deca was a cancer-causing substance.

Last month, the FDA told that it was giving the EWG’s concerns “careful consideration”.

If Deca is being used in food contact material and it is migrating to food as a result, then it would be a food additive requiring pre-market approval from FDA. No pre-market approval exists for Deca in food contact materials,​” FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci said.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

Related news

Follow us


View more