Understanding what chemicals are present in food packaging, their effects, and how to reduce your chemical intake.
After a long day at work, we often do not feel like making food from scratch. So the next best option is to buy ready-made food or go out for a meal. The packaging that we take home contains chemicals that can seep into our food and cause harm. It might be easier, but it does not mean it is the safer option.
We will take a look at what types of chemicals people are commonly exposed to and the predominant sources of exposure. We then will dive into the health risks that these chemicals have and ways in which you can avoid them.
What Toxins Are Found In Food Packaging?
EDF has identified other chemicals in food packaging and food handling equipment, whose ubiquity and potential health effects raise serious concerns about food safety and contamination of the recycling stream. There are two types of packaging for these chemicals: plastic and/or paper.
Ingredients added intentionally
- Studies have shown that Ortho-phthalates are mainly used in plastic and printing inks, adversely affect development, reproduction, and the endocrine system. They are widely found in food. The FDA is currently reviewing their safety.
- The chemical Perchlorate, a static-control compound used in plastics and food handling equipment, interferes with thyroid gland function and reduces thyroid hormone production. The increase in perchlorate levels in baby food dry cereal is particularly problematic. According to the FDA, perchlorate is currently under review.
- PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, are grease-proofing agents used in paper packaging. PFAS are bioaccumulating, persistent chemicals linked to endocrine disruption and developmental problems in children. Water and food have probably been the sources of widespread human exposure to PFAS. In Washington State, PFAS will be banned from food packaging two years after the state finds suitable safer alternatives, or by 2022, whichever date is later, to give manufacturers more time.
- Rubber products intended for repeated use contain benzophenone as a plasticizer. The FDA has banned benzophenone as a flavor and in food packaging due to the carcinogenic evidence it possesses. This ban has been in effect since 2020.
Residual Processing Aids
- Ink solvents containing Ethyl and Methyl Glycol, Toluene, and N-Methyl-Pyrrolidone (NMP) leave residues in packaging and may cause developmental or reproductive effects. The removal of toluene and NMP is being considered for other product categories as well. Several retailers, including Amazon and Rite-Aid, have removed toluene from personal care and beauty products. Numerous retailers have targeted NMP for removal from paint strippers, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart. The EPA is expected to finalize a proposal banning the use of NMP as a paint stripper for retail sales in the near future.
- Bisphenol A, B, F, and S are used to make epoxy linings in metal cans, polycarbonate plastic, and ink. Some bisphenol compounds have shown developmental, reproductive, and/or endocrine disruption effects. It is already prohibited to use BPA in baby bottles or coatings for infant formula packages. BPS has become a popular alternative to BPA in the packaging in recent years, but recent studies indicate similar health concerns as BPA.
Mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium VI are highly toxic and have been regulated for various applications. Heavy metal contamination has been demonstrated in baby foods, particularly. Though not intentionally added, contamination of food packaging may be a source. The Toxic Elements Working Group of the FDA studies how heavy metals are absorbed in children from all foods.
Are The Chemicals Used In Food Packaging Harmful To Human Health?
There is evidence that chemical components of plastic packaging materials can leach into our food. Some of these chemicals may be harmful.
NMP exposure increases fetal mortality risks for 11,300 pregnant consumers and 160 pregnant workers each year, according to estimates by the EPA. As stated by NJ.Gov, inhaling NMP can irritate the throat and cause sneezing. Additionally, it can cause headaches, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
There is evidence that benzophenone-based chemicals are carcinogenic, disrupt endocrine systems, and adversely affect organs. This chemical is found in items that are designed to be reused, such as plastic water bottles and microwave containers.
Healthline reports that BPA binds to estrogen receptors and influences bodily functions, including growth, cell repair, fetal development, energy levels, and reproduction because of its estrogen-like shape.
Four Ways To Avoid Toxic Chemicals In Packaging
Below are four ways in which you can avoid or reduce the toxic chemical intake that is found in food packaging.
- An excellent way to avoid BPA is to purchase food stored in glass jars. BPA-free containers are now available for many products, including soup broth.
- Use unlined stainless steel or glass bottles instead of plastic reusable water bottles.
- You won’t have to worry about paper receipts anymore-most stores will email you your receipt.
- You should wash your hands frequently and before eating. There is a chance that dust or thermal paper receipts contain chemicals that can get on your hands and end up in your mouth. Likewise, you should wash your kid’s hands often throughout the day and before they eat. This will ensure that everyone’s hands are clean and chemical-free before eating.
Over the last several decades, consumers have been able to eat on the go, thanks to numerous innovations. Today, United States authorities approve thousands of chemicals that are used in food contact materials. Food packaging, containers, utensils, and food processing equipment can be sprayed with some of these chemicals.
Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors, including BPA found in can linings, phthalates in plastic food wrap, and PFASs found in greaseproof wrappers, which can leach into food and enter people’s bodies. When discarded in landfills, food packaging chemical substances can raise health concerns and contaminate the soil and groundwater. The chemical ingredients used by manufacturers are not disclosed, and regulatory oversight is slow and insufficient.
Keep yourself and your family safe by reducing the amount of plastic and paper food packaging products. Use glass or bring your containers to store food safely.