Key chemicals of concern in food packaging and food handling equipment

Chemical migration from packaging to food

EDF has identified chemicals in food packaging and food handling equipment where the potential health impacts from their migration into food raises serious concerns. These chemicals in virgin materials may also contaminate the recycling stream and undermine their recyclability. By ensuring future food packaging is free of these chemicals, companies can improve consumer trust while minimizing the impact of future regulations on their bottom line. In the tables, we list key chemicals of concern in food packaging. Taking action today helps to protect consumer health now and in the future. See our table on Key Chemicals of Concern in Food Packaging and Food Handling Equipment.

EDF Supply Chain Solutions Center

Intentionally added ingredients

Chemical or class CASRN Health concerns Authoritative citations Role in virgin packaging
Ortho-phthalates* Various Endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHC; EU Priority ED; CSPC Primarily used in plastic but many other uses such as inks. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances)* Various Developmental toxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulation Varies Grease-proofing agent in paper. High concern in virgin paper.
Long-chain (8 or more carbons) Various Systemic, reproductive and developmental toxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulation California Prop 65;
EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; FDA; ATSDR; EPA Drinking Water; Washington State
Short-chain (fewer than 8 carbons) Various Systemic, reproductive and developmental toxicity, Persistence, Highly mobile in water EU REACH SVHC; ATSDR (some chemicals); Washington State
Perchlorate 14797-73-0 Endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity EU REACH Annex VI; EPA Drinking water Anti-static agent used in plastic for dry food packaging and handling equipment. High concern in virgin plastic. Moderate concern in virgin paper.
Benzophenone 119-61-9 Carcinogenicity California Prop 65; EU Priority ED; IARC 2B; FDA Plasticizer in rubber articles intended for repeat use. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Ortho-phthalates: Contamination of food is widespread. FDA is currently reviewing petitions to revoke their uses. Decision anticipated in 2019.
  • PFAS: FDA banned use of long-chain PFAS in 2016 but uses may continue. State of Washington, concerned that paper and cardboard food packaging treated with PFAS may be contaminating composting and paper recycling processes post-consumer, has prohibited PFAS use effective in 2022, pending a safer alternatives assessment.
  • Perchlorate: Food contamination is widespread. Young children’s exposure increased after approval. FDA is currently considering whether to reverse its May 2017 decision allowing the use to continue. Decision anticipated in 2019.
  • Benzophenone: In Oct. 2018, FDA banned use as a flavor and in food packaging effective Oct. 2020.

Residual processing aids

Chemical or class CASRN Health concerns Authoritative citations Role in virgin packaging
Bisphenol A (BPA) and related compounds Various Endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity Varies Used to make: epoxy lining in metal cans, polycarbonate plastic, and ink.
BPA* 80-05-7 Endocrine disruption, Developmental toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; EU Priority ED High concern in virgin plastic, moderate in paper.
Bisphenol B 77-40-7 EU REACH SVHC; EU Priority ED
Bisphenol F 620-92-8 Endocrine disruption, Reproductive toxicity IPCP 2018 EDC report
Bisphenol S 80-09-1
Toluene* 108-88-3 Reproductive and developmental toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI Solvent often used in printing inks. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Ethyl glycol (2-ethoxy ethanol)* 110-80-5 Reproductive toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHC Solvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Methyl glycol (2-methoxyethanol)* 109-86-4 Reproductive toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHC Solvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) 872-50-4 Reproductive and developmental toxicity California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and XVII and SVHC Solvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Bisphenol compounds: FDA banned BPA use in baby bottles and as a coating of infant formula packaging based on abandoned uses. BPS became a common replacement to BPA in packaging, but recent studies demonstrate similar health concerns to BPA.
  • NMP: Banned by EPA in paint strippers sold for non-commercial use.

Contaminants

Chemical or class CASRN Health concerns Authoritative citations Role in virgin packaging
Heavy Metals Various Carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity Varies Varies
Lead* 7349-92-1 California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; IARC 2A; FDA; CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC; EPA PBT Use banned. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Arsenic 7440-38-2 California Prop 65 (inorganic arsenic); EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC (some forms); IARC 1; FDA (inorganic); EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Cadmium* 7440-43-9 California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; IARC 1; FDA; CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC Use banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Chromium VI* 18540-29-9 California Prop 65: EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC (some forms); CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC; NIOSH OC Use banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Mercury* 7439-97-6 California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI; FDA; CONEG; EPA PBT Use banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Heavy metals: 18 states have set a 100 ppm limit for total concentration of lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury in packaging and components. Heavy metals shown to cause harm at very low-level exposures can result in significant toxicity, and some can build up in the body. FDA’s Toxic Elements Working Group, whose mission in part is to develop a strategy to prioritize and modernize activities with respect to food/toxic element combinations, is focused on children’s exposure.

* Starred chemicals are also recommended for minimization or phase out in “Food Packaging Product Stewardship Considerations,” a set of best practices released by the Food Safety Alliance for Packaging, a part of the Institute of Packaging Professionals, to reduce problematic chemicals in food packaging.

 

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