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Food packaging regulations are insufficient for protecting public health

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People are commonly exposed to unknown and untested chemicals from food packaging, according to a new article by the Food Packaging Forum, co-authored by a researcher at Brunel University London.

Publishing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Dr Olwenn Martin and colleagues explain how food packaging and other materials contacting food and beverages (e.g. foils, cans, pans, storage containers) continuously release mixtures of food contact substances into food at low levels.

These are then ingested daily by consumers. For many of these food contact substances, the effects on human health are essentially unknown.

The authors point out that “compliance with both European and US regulations requires exposure and toxicity data that cannot be generated for many food contact substances”.

They question whether current laws and risk assessment practices are sufficient for protecting consumers’ health.

Exposures to hazardous chemicals from food packaging can be minimised

The authors make nine suggestions for overcoming knowledge gaps and problems in the risk assessment of food contact substances, for example by avoiding known hazardous compounds in the manufacture of food contact materials (FCMs).

Further, any substance authorised for FCMs needs to be controllable, implying that data on its use are reported, and that levels of migration can be measured by chemical analysis.

Importantly, all food contact substances should be assessed for their toxicity, according to current scientific understanding. Toxicity testing needs to be mandatory for all food contact substances, to exclude carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting compounds and mixtures making their way from food packaging into our food.

Scientific challenges in the risk assessment of food contact materials by Jane Muncke, Thomas Backhaus, Birgit Geueke, Maricel V. Maffini, Olwenn Viviane Martin (Department of Life Sciences, Brunel University London), John Peterson Myers, Ana M. Soto, Leonardo Trasande, Xenia Trier, and Martin Scheringer was published in Environmental Health Perspectives on Monday 11 September 2017.

 

Reported by:

Sarah Cox, Media Relations
sarah.cox@brunel.ac.uk