Safer food packaging needed: Study links chemicals to potential health risks

A new study, recently published in the journal of Environment International, investigated the concern about harmful chemicals leaching from food contact articles (FCAs) into our food. Several of these chemicals are known endocrine and metabolism disrupting chemicals (EDCs and MDCs). The study analyzed the migration of these chemicals into food simulants, as well as characterized their chemical makeup and potential to disrupt our hormones and metabolism.  

Researchers analyzed fourteen plastic FCAs made from seven common polymer types. These samples were originated from Germany, Norway, South Korea, and the UK. The common polymers included high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyurethane (PUR), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Two food simulants: ultrapure water and a water–ethanol mixture mimicked different food types.  

The FCAs were cut into smaller pieces and immersed in the food simulants for 10 days at 40°C. The chemical analysis involved solid-phase extraction (SPE) followed by high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify the migrating chemicals. To assess endocrine-disrupting activity, reporter gene assays tested effects on four nuclear receptors: pregnane X receptor (PXR), peroxisome proliferator receptor gamma (PPARγ), estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), and androgen receptor (AR).  

The study found that migrating chemicals from all FCAs interfered with at least two nuclear receptors, primarily PXR (24 out of 28) and that PPARγ activation occurred in 19 out of 28 migrates, but with lower potency. Estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities were detected in eight and seven migrates, respectively. Fewer chemicals and less toxicity were observed in water migrates compared to the water–ethanol mixture. However, 73% of the 15 430 identified chemicals migrated into the simulants, signifying significant chemical transfer from plastic to food. The complexity of the chemicals varied significantly between FCAs (ranging from 8 to 10 631 features).  

The study identified potential active chemicals, using stepwise partial least squares regressions, including known endocrine disruptors like triphenyl phosphate. This prioritizes chemicals for further investigation.  

The study demonstrates that plastic FCAs are a significant source of exposure to EDCs and MDCs. The widespread migration of chemicals from plastic packaging into food raises concerns about potential health risks. This underlines the need for comprehensive risk assessments and improved regulatory measures to manage the potential health risks associated with plastic food packaging. Further studies are necessary to fully understand the health implications and to develop safer alternatives for food packaging materials.    



Science Direct