Safer food contact materials: scientists propose new innovative approach

An international team of more than 20 scientists has unveiled a new vision for safer food contact materials (FCMs). This innovative approach, which was just published in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International, aims to eliminate hazardous and untested chemicals from FCMs and overhaul current FCM risk assessment procedures.    

Presently, the safety assessments of FCMs focus on single chemicals, particularly those that are genotoxic and known to cause cancer. However, the scientists propose a shift towards assessing the complete mixture of chemicals that emerge from finished food contact articles (FCAs) and examining their impacts on prevalent health issues (like cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders).    

The team points out that existing safety evaluations center predominantly on substances utilized in the production of FCAs, neglecting compounds that form during the manufacturing process. This oversight means numerous chemicals in food packaging and cookware go untested, especially in relation to interactions with non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), despite their relevance to human exposure.    

To bridge these gaps, the scientists suggest a two-pronged approach: first, to assess all chemicals that migrate from the final FCA, including (unknown) NIAS, and second, to expand toxicological evaluations to cover a range of non-communicable diseases, not just genotoxic effects.  

The scientists introduce a concept called the "six clusters of disease" (SCOD), which highlights prevalent non-communicable diseases linked to chemical exposures. These clusters include cancers, cardiovascular diseases, reproductive disorders, brain-related issues, immunological and metabolic disorders. They also highlight the connections between widely used food contact chemicals like PFAS, bisphenol A, and phthalates, and conditions like kidney cancer, infertility, and ADHD.    

This novel approach proposes comprehensive testing strategies for individual chemicals and mixtures and leverages in-vitro and in-silico assays to map toxicity profiles before FCAs are placed on the market. The SCOD provides organizing principles for this approach, guiding the selection of assays for comprehensive testing strategies.    

While governments in the US, EU, Canada, and China have risk assessment requirements, the evaluations typically focus only on intentionally used substances.    

The scientists' vision is based on the belief that thorough chemical testing can help mitigate non-communicable diseases. Their approach emphasizes the examination of individual food contact chemicals and real-life mixtures, evaluates health impacts in relation to prevalent non-communicable diseases as outlined in the SCOD, and relies on mechanistic information and high-throughput in-vitro screening to evaluates effects that are upstream from the disease.    

This innovative approach aligns with initiatives like the EU's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, which stress the need for improved safety. It also complements ongoing efforts by the US Food and Drug Administration to strengthen post-market review of food contact substances.    

The authors believe that their research provides valuable guidance for the further development of FCM safety assessment, ultimately aiming to bolster public health protections globally. Their vision underscores the urgent need for improved safety standards in food packaging and other FCMs to ensure the well-being of consumers worldwide.