A group of scientists has published its concerns for the safety of the packaging materials used in the food and beverage supply. Whether it comes in bags, cans, jars, bottles, or boxes, the packaging materials almost always contain chemicals that are known to cause disease in humans. The group — the Food Packaging Forum Foundation — cites three areas of concern and calls for more in-depth study of the toxic effects of chronic exposure to these elements and more effective regulations on a global scale.

Dr. Jane Muncke is lead author of the commentary; she is affiliated with the foundation headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. The group’s commentary is available online and in the next edition of the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. While exposure from handling these materials is an issue, the group is more concerned with long-term ingestion of these chemicals once a stored food or beverage has leached these substances from the packaging materials and into the food or beverage itself.

In an isolated incident, exposure levels to the toxic food contact materials (FCMs) seem too small to matter but repeated exposure over a long period of time has not been thoroughly studied. This form of chronic exposure to FCMs could be valuable in tracing the origins of many of the diseases plaguing modern society, especially when exposure occurs during fetal development and early childhood.

The three areas of concern identified in the group’s commentary include:


  1. It is legal to use “known toxicants” in food and beverage packaging.
  2. Hormone-disruptive chemicals are often a part of FCMs.
  3. There are more than 4,000 chemicals intentionally used in FCM manufacture.

Legal Use of “Known Toxicants”

Formaldehyde is one well-known chemical used as an example in the commentary. Formaldehyde causes cancer but it’s used in the plastic bottles containing most carbonated beverages. Some products contain formaldehyde in the finished product although the chemical is never included as an ingredient; it’s produced as a by-product of chemical reactions occurring between chemicals that are intentionally used.

Hormone-Disruptive Chemicals

Bisphenol A (BPA) has gained notoriety in recent years as the dangerous chemical in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. Some countries banned sales of BPA-laced baby products but the chemical is still widely used in food and beverage packaging. One use is to line metal cans that contain foods and beverages.

Thousands of Chemicals to Study and Regulate

Government regulation varies from nation to nation and even from state to state in the US and no two governing bodies use the same data or standards to determine toxicity of chemicals. According to the commentary, even the most routine toxicology analysis doesn’t take cellular change into consideration, a situation that “casts serious doubts on the adequacy of chemical regulatory procedures.”

In developed countries such as the US, almost 70% of all deaths are due to chronic disease. The group suggests entire populations are at risk from FCMs since so much of the global food supply is packaged in one form or another.

Source: Muncke, Jane. “Commentary / Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge? (extract)” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. The BMJ Publishing Group Ltd. Feb 19, 2014. Web. Mar 1, 2014.