New Evidence for Toxics in Food Packaging – Tips to Avoid Them

Packaged Food
Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

A report recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (part of the British Medical Journal) adds further scientific evidence to the presence of synthetic toxics in food packaging. When food and beverages come in contact with the packaging, chemicals can leach out and are ingested by anyone who consumes that item.

In this study, over 400 chemicals, including formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA), triclosan, and phthalates, were found in food contact materials. Many of the chemicals detected are known or suspected carcinogens and others are endocrine disrupting chemicals (chemicals which alter normal hormone functioning in the body). Despite being measured at trace levels, scientists suspect that tiny amounts over a lifetime could be linked to a variety of health consequences including infertility, birth defects, developmental problems, and cancer.

The chemicals in question are typically byproducts of the manufacturing process. Since they are not intentional ingredients, they are rarely listed on product labels and therefore, difficult to avoid.

Luckily, a dietary intervention study conducted by our sister organization, Silent Spring Institute, provides a bit of insight on ways to avoid BPA and phthalates in food packaging. Results of this study, released in 2011 showed that a fresh food diet reduced levels of BPA and a common phthalate in half after only three days. Here are some tips:

  1. Choose fresh foods, instead of canned, whenever possible.
  2. Store food in glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic.
  3. Never microwave food or beverages in plastic containers.
  4. Try cooking more meals at home where you can choose fresh ingredients and safe food packaging (this is not guaranteed with meals prepared elsewhere).
  5. Try using a French press instead of an automatic coffee maker which could have BPA and phthalates in its plastic containers and tubing.


Media Coverage:

Scientists raise concerns over chemicals leaching into food from packaging, The Globe and Mail

Chemicals leaching into food from packaging raise safety concerns, The Guardian