A newly published commentary article by a group of environmental scientists from Switzerland, the USA and Spain questions the safety of low concentrations of synthetic chemicals leaching into food from food contact materials.
The authors, led by Dr Jane Muncke, from the Food Packaging Forum Foundation in Zurich, raise concerns about the effects of long-term dietary exposure to small quantities of chemicals such as formaldehyde, bisphenol A, phthalates and triclosan derived from food packaging. They call for a population-based assessment and biomonitoring to look for any potential links between exposure to chemicals from food contact materials and chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, cancers and neurological disorders.
According to the commentary, “Food contact materials are a significant source of chemical food contamination, although legally they are not considered as contaminants.” The authors consider that they are “a new exposure source in the sense that they have received little attention so far in studies concerned with human health effects.”
The article has drawn criticism from other scientists, who point out that there is little evidence for any adverse health effects linked to the very low levels of contamination present in food products and that food contact materials are tightly regulated. Furthermore, some of the chemicals mentioned are naturally present in foods. On the question of formaldehyde for example, Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide in Australia, commented, “To consume as much formaldehyde as is present in a 100g apple, you would need to drink at least 20 litres of mineral water that had been stored in PET bottles.”