Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) commissioned a series of tests to assess the levels at which chemicals such as phthalates, perfluorinated compounds (PCFs), epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO), semicarbazide, acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride migrate from packaging into foodstuffs.
The body said it had selected these substances as they had previously been highlighted as potential causes for concern and the work built on its 2010 report on bisphenol A (BPA) levels in food, said FSANZ.
The survey focussed on a total of 183 samples across 65 food and beverages packaged in cans, plastic, paper and glass. Not all samples were analysed for all chemicals as this was based on the potential for different packaging types to contain the substances.
For most food types, leading brands by market size as specified by a recognised marketing guide were selected. If these were not available, the brand taking up the most shelf space was used.
Wherever possible store ‘own brands’ were sampled and the smallest package sized was selected on the assumption that it would “provide the greatest potential for the food to come into contact with food contact material - providing a worst-case scenario”, said the report.
For most chemicals analysed, samples were composited from three primary purchases of different brands of the same food type. The exception to this was infant foods, where each brand of the different types of infant food was analysed individually for each chemical.
Following the analyses, the FSANZ team declared: “There were no detections of phthalates, PCFs, semicarbazide, acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride in any of the foods analysed in this survey.”
However, ESBO, produced by epoxidation of soybean oil and used in a range of plastics most often as a plasticiser, was the only one of the potential chemicals of concern detected in the exercise.
It is also commonly used in PVC sealing closures (gaskets) of glass jars to form an airtight seal to prevent microbiological contamination of foods . PVC, in the form of films and gaskets, can contain up to 30 per cent of the substance.
The chemical was found in three foods packaged in glass jars at concentrations ranging from 4.2 to 10 mg/kg. The highest levels were discovered in olive brine, followed by savoury pasta sauce and infant dinners.
No health risk
The tolerable daily intake (TDI) for ESBO as set by the European Food Safety Authority is 1 mg/kg body weight. The European Union specific migration limit (SML) for has been set at 60 mg per kg food for general foods and 30 mg per kg infant foods.
The research concluded that dietary exposure to ESBO from these foods was “estimated to be very low and does not pose a human health and safety risk to consumers”.
The study’s overall conclusion for the raft of substances tested: “This survey of chemicals associated with potential migration from food contact packaging materials provides reassurance that concentrations of these substances in foods are generally very low or not detected and do not pose a health or safety risk to Australian consumers. This supports previous assessments undertaken by FSANZ.”