Emily Barrett of Environmental Health Perspectives recently provided a great synopsis of an updated review of food contact materials and their potential to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) into our food.
Author of the review, Jane Muncke, didn’t mince words when issuing her findings, calling into question the current means of estimating the true level of exposure to EDC’s through food contact materials. Her conclusions included the following major points:
- Food packaging is an underestimated source of chemical food contamination
- Migration into dry foods can be considerable
- Substances of concern, like endocrine disrupting chemicals, are widely used in food contact materials
- Risk assessment of endocrine disrupting chemical food contamination is challenging because exposure and effect assessment are not always straight forward
Muncke’s insights have caused me to carefully reconsider which food packaging I choose for my own growing children. Based on her article, I’ll be investigating benzophenones (a known carcinogen) and organotins, two groups of suspected EDC’s, which are legally used in the US and EU.
And as Barrett pointed out, we now have even more motivation to choose fresh foods over processed ones.
The guidelines do not consider the collective numbers and toxicity – alone or in combination – of all of the chemicals that can leach from the packaging, the author points out.* In a chemical mix, individual health effects may be magnified. Printing, ink, adhesives, recycled cardboard and the plastic containers can all introduce unwanted chemicals into a single food product, creating a mix with additive or synergystic effects. What’s more, the chemicals may degrade over time or form new compounds that migrate into food. These can go entirely unmeasured since it is nearly impossible to identify and test for them all, suggests .
Kids may be at particular risk. Not only are their bodies still developing and hence susceptible to environmental insults, but they tend to eat more packaged foods, a more limited diet and more food for their body weight than adults do. There are similar concerns for pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as obese adults, whose bodies may process these chemicals differently from their trimmer counterparts.
Tips for Reducing Your Exposure to EDC’s in Food Packaging
- Avoid PVC in plastic food wrap: ask your butcher to prepare the cuts of meat you want and wrap it in paper. Most butcher or freezer paper is coated with wax or polyethylene which are better alternatives. As for blocks of cheese, look for packages with Ziplok style closures, and plastic packages that have been heat-sealed, because most of these bags are made from polyethylene.
- Buy fresh or frozen produce packaged in polyethylene bags: BPA is found in most epoxy linings of aluminum cans, glass jar lids and the bottom of some frozen cardboard boxes – although there a few BPA-free options available
- Choose jarred foods when possible – especially those with space between the lid and the food
- If you do choose to purchase foods packaged in plastic, do not reuse, cook or heat food in them – even if recommended by the manufacturer; this may include some microwavable meals, so just remove them from the plastic container and heat in glass
- Look for non-recycled cardboard boxes when ordering takeout meals like pizza, as they are less likely to contain BPA.
- Bring your own reusable coffee cups and to-go containers for leftovers and skip Styrofoam altogether
>> Read the complete research study: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and other substances of concern in food contact materials: An updated review of exposure, effect and risk assessment in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Photo Source: Flickr via _anh