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Chemicals Migrate From Containers to Food

 More and more studies are finding negative health effects from hormone disrupting chemicals (which we are exposed to every single day, and subsequently which are in all of us), such as parabens, phthalates, Bisphenol-A (BPA), and chemical substitutes for BPA such as Bisphenol-S (BPS) and BPF.  The last post had some recent studies that looked at health effects of hormone disrupting chemicals. The following article points out some of the many difficulties in developing packaging that is safe and doesn't leach endocrine disrupting chemicals or even other chemicals.

We generally focus on hormone disrupting chemicals in plastic bottles or metal cans (which their epoxy liners), but other parts of packaging may (or may not) also leach chemicals. Some leaching may occur with the adhesives used to seal foil pouches, and the polypropylene inner layers also may leach stabilizers. Glass jars are OK, but jar lids may be equipped with BPA-based epoxy liners and/or gaskets that leach plasticizers. Greaseproof wrappers may leach poly- and perfluorinated compounds used to make some packaging greaseproof (may occur if packaging is from India and China - because it is legal to import into USA and use).  Some ceramic kitchenware - the glazes used in artisanal pottery and older mass produced ceramics may leach toxic metals, especially lead. There can even be "offset migration" which occurs when the printed outer surface of food packaging transfers chemicals to the inner food-contact surface.  Whew...

Bottom line: Even BPA alternatives (labeled BPA-free) should be viewed as the same as BPA (as endocrine disruptors) - in other words, currently there are no good BPA substitutes. Read labels and try to minimize plastics in personal care products (e.g., lotion, fragrances) and your food if possible (e.g., choose glass, stainless steel, wax paper, aluminum foil). This is especially important during pregnancy.  Don't microwave food in a plastic dish or container, or covered with plastic wrap. Eat fresh foods and try to avoid soda cans and other packaged, processed foods, especially in plastic containers or metal cans. From Environmental Health Perspectives: A Hard Nut to Crack: Reducing Chemical Migration in Food-Contact Materials

When we buy food, we’re often buying packaging, too. From cherries to Cheez-It® crackers, modern foods are processed, transported, stored, and sold in specialized materials that account, on average, for half the cost of the item, according to Joseph Hotchkiss, a professor in Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. Consumer-level food packaging serves a wide range of functions, such as providing product information, preventing spoilage, and protecting food during the journey from production to retail to pantry, fridge, or freezer. That’s why food producers lavish so much time and money on it.

But what happens when these valuable and painstakingly engineered containers leach chemicals and other compounds into the food and drink they’re designed to protect? Such contamination is nearly ubiquitous; it happens every day, everywhere packaged food is found, with all common types of packaging, including glass, metal, paper, and plastic. Even as awareness of the issue grows, large-scale solutions that are scientifically and financially viable remain out of reach. The challenges in reaching them are many. 

People around the world are familiar with bisphenol A (BPA) and concerns about its migration into food and drink from plastic bottles, metal cans, and other consumer products. ....In recent years U.S. manufacturers voluntarily abandoned the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant-formula packaging, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally ended its authorizations of these uses thereafter. Beyond our borders, several other countries have banned BPA from some infant products, including Canada, the European Union, South Africa, China, Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador. France went even further with its recently implemented ban of BPA from all packaging, containers, and utensils that come into contact with food.

BPA is just one of many known or suspected endocrine disruptors commonly found in food packaging that can migrate into food and drink. Furthermore, endocrine disruptors from plastics are far from the only class of potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into food or drink from food packaging; depending on factors including temperature, storage time, and physicochemical properties, a wide variety of compounds—including components of coatings and films, adhesives and glues, and inks and pigments—can migrate from packaging materials.

Sure enough, in some applications BPA was replaced with other bisphenols, including BPS and BPF, which laboratory experiments indicate have estrogenic effects at least as pronounced as those of BPA. In others, including baby bottles, polycarbonates were replaced by alternative plastics with migration issues of their own. Chemists are now on the hunt for effective alternatives to BPA. To date no one has identified any drop-in fixes that will work in all the same applications, for the same or a lesser cost, with an established lack of estrogenic activity (now known in the marketplace as “EA-free”).

But full-scale solutions remain at least a few iterations away, says John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. “Something like reinventing plastic isn’t going to happen in a day, a month, or a year,” he says.... Much of Warner’s personal research centers on developing biobased plastics (i.e., derived from renewable biomass sources) that are safer, cheaper, and as effective as traditional fossil-fuel plastics for food packaging. However, plant-based plastics still may contain some of the same harmful additives and manufacturing by-products (known as non-intentionally added substances) that can migrate into food and drink.

While it’s clear that a number of packaging manufacturers are eager to switch to alternative packaging whether required to or not, progress to date has been incremental at best

Some nongovernmental organizations are taking steps to get specific chemicals removed from food packaging. Within the last year the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has teamed with citizens’ groups in petitioning the FDA to withdraw its decades old approvals of a handful of chemicals, including perchlorate, an endocrine disruptor used to produce rubber gaskets and to reduce static charge in plastic dry-food packaging, and long-chain perfluorocarboxylates, used to greaseproof paper and paperboard. The latter have been largely abandoned by U.S. manufacturers but increasingly are employed in India and China and are still legal to import and use, says Tom Neltner, an independent consultant.

Maricel Maffini, a consultant and former senior scientist with the NRDC, is concerned that the development of safer alternatives is being hampered by a lack of regulatory incentives and oversight. “There is no regulatory pressure for innovation,” she says. “And when [manufacturers] do take the initiative to go for an alternative, we don’t know the safety profile of that alternative, we don’t know the exposure, we don’t know if it gets metabolized when it gets into the environment. So there are still a lot of systemic improvements that we need.”

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