In her report ‘What Toxic Packaging Does to Your Healthy Food’, (The Times, March 2, 2015) Blythman claims many chemicals used to make food packaging match the criteria for “substances of very high concern” set by the European Union’s chemical authorisation body.
175 chemicals in food packaging are 'of concern'
She also refers toThe Food Packaging Forum (FPF), which reviews scientific data on which chemicals migrate from packaging into food and beverages and warned 175 chemicals found in food packaging are defined by international classification bodies as “chemicals of concern” because they had been linked to cancer, reduced fertility, genital malformations and hormone disruption.
“Under European rules, chemicals with highly toxic properties must be registered and approved for use, but the guidelines do not cover food packaging,” she said.
“Although these rules extend to chemicals used in making toys, paints, textiles and medical equipment, they do not cover food-contact materials, even though many people are exposed to them every day of their lives.”
In defence, Sarah Plant, public and industrial affairs manager, BPF, said plastics used in food packaging are subject to a whole battery of EU and national regulations which are constantly being updated.
“Bisphenol A and phthalates are some of the most widely studied chemicals in the world and their continued safe use has been thoroughly risk assessed by both EU and international authorities," she said.
Vast improvements in food hygiene
Plant added developments in plastics packaging have been responsible for vast improvements in food hygiene over the last 50 years.
“Without such packaging, food hygiene would likely regress to pre-war levels when the incidence of food poisoning was much higher,” she said.
“It was not uncommon before the days of durable and sealable packaging for rotting food, improperly packed, to cause worrying levels of fatality. Not only is plastics packaging safe, public health benefits from it."
However, standing by Blythman’s article, both Jane Muncke, MD, FPF, and Birgit Geueke, scientific officer, FPF, said: ‘Unfortunately, by far not all chemicals are controlled’.
“While I'm not for alarming consumers about packaging safety, I do think that recent scientific advances relating to some chronic diseases are cause for concern,” added Muncke.
“Currently most data on food packaging chemicals is about their ability to cause cancer - if there is any data at all. Cancer is of course relevant, but we sadly struggle with so many other chronic conditions, too. Regulatory requirements mostly do not cover these conditions.
“There is definitely room for improvement. The challenge is to balance the undisputed importance of food packaging, the need for a sophisticated chemical tool box to make this packaging, and protection of public health by applying our society's best, science based knowledge to the regulatory system. Not an easy challenge.”
According to Blythman, public concern has resulted in bisphenol A being banned in packaging and reusable food containers, such as ‘sippy cups’, intended for children under three, in Canada, the EU and the US.
“Several cancer charities advise people to avoid bisphenol A. Breast Cancer UK has called for a ban,” she said.
“Phthalates (plasticisers added to films to keep them soft) have also been shown to migrate into food, which is worrying because increased levels of phthalates are associated with obesity and reduced masculinisation in new-born boys.
“In 2012, the Food Standards Agency reported that 31% of everyday foods tested contained phthalates above the legal level, with the highest levels in bread.”
In conclusion, Blythman said the range of packaging materials and substances available to food manufacturers is elaborate and futuristic, with innovative concepts constantly coming on to the market but packaging chemicals needs to be more controlled.
“The industrial food system operates on the assumption that potential toxins have no harmful effects, provided the concentration is low enough. So nothing is done, although many researchers suspect that some chemicals have unexpected and potent effects even at low doses,” she added.
FoodProductionDaily is organising a one hour debate with four guest speakers, including Jane Muncke on Food Packaging Migration on March 13.
Migration of chemicals from packaging materials is a major concern for manufacturers, suppliers and the regulatory bodies responsible for consumer safety and health.
The extent to which a substance migrates depends on the chemical, the makeup of the material(s) from which it could be released and the food with which it comes into contact. Join us at 4pm CET to hear what our panel of experts have to say on the topic by registering here .