Consuming Plastic: Packaging Chemicals Can Leach into Your Food and Drinks

IMG_5527Article Author: Elizabeth Geldart, Biomedical Engineering Major, Class of 2023, Protect Our Breasts Translator

Not only is it important to consider what chemicals go into the food we eat, but it is also necessary to be aware of the packaging that surrounds our food. Plastic packaging material (PPM) is a common way many dangerous chemicals migrate into the food we consume.

Chemical migration happens when food is touching packaging materials and chemicals from the packaging material are able to diffuse, or “leach”, into the food. Many PPM contain unwanted migrated chemicals that are harmful to human health including endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are chemicals that interfere with our hormone system. EDCs can trick our bodies into thinking they are natural hormones or block our natural hormones from doing their job. 

By interfering with our hormone levels, EDCs can lead to many negative health outcomes including increasing the chance of developing certain cancers later in life. You are especially at risk for negative effects of EDCs during developmental periods up through a woman’s first full-term pregnancy. A recent literature review published in October of 2020, compiled research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastic packaging material and their links to harmful health effects.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an EDC used in plastic packaging whose exposure can cause fertility problems including low sperm count as well as increased risk of breast, testicular, and prostate cancer. One type of BPA, Bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BADGE), is used to coat metallic cans and food packaging and has been proven to migrate into food and drink. 

Phthalates or phthalic acid esters (PAE), known endocrine disruptors, are also popularly used in plastic products. Studies throughout the years have established their link to harmful health effects. In 2006, studies by Wormuth et al. demonstrated the correlation between exposure to phthalates and disruption of the male reproductive system in the offspring of pregnant rats. One 2008 study acknowledged a possible link between high exposure to dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and testicular dysgenesis syndrome in humans (Sharpe and Skakkebaek). In another study from 2012, DBP had also “been associated with decreased fertility, low birth weight, and preterm birth” in humans (Koch et al. 2012). In a more recent study conducted in 2017 and 2018, many phthalates were “reported to promote type II diabetes mellitus and obesity” but further research is necessary (Fromme 2018; Stojanoska et al. 2017).

So how can we avoid these dangerous chemicals in food packaging? 

Reducing your use of plastic packaging is a fool-proof way to help avoid exposure to those particular EDCs. 

Ways to reduce the use of plastic packaging material:

  1. Avoid buying food in plastic containers when grocery shopping
  2. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are not packaged 
  3. Buy cartons or glass over plastic or metal canned drinks 
  4. Avoid individually wrapped snacks
  5. Buy glass containers instead of plastic storage containers

Although it is impossible to confirm if a product is truly safe, Protect Our Breasts has created a “Safer Alternative” review process. Brands on this list are working towards confirmation that their packaging does not contain any chemicals deemed unsafe by the Institute of Packaging Professionals’ Food Safety Alliance for Packaging (FSAP). It is important to be aware of the chemicals in the packaging of your food so you can choose safer packaging alternatives and avoid exposure to chemicals of concern.

Sources:

Fromme, H. 2018. Phthalates: Occurrence and human exposure. Encyclopedia of Environmental Health. 2nd ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier Inc. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-409548-9.11285-0.

Hooi-Theng Ong, Hayati Samsudin & Herlinda Soto-Valdez (2020). Migration of endocrine-disrupting chemicals into food from plastic packaging materials: an overview of chemical risk assessment, techniques to monitor migration, and international regulations, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1830747.

Koch, H. M. , K. L. Y.Christensen, V.Harth, M.Lorber, and T.Brüning . (2012). Di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP) metabolism in a human volunteer after single oral doses. Archives of Toxicology, 86 (12):1829–39. doi: 10.1007/s00204-012-0908-1.

Sharpe, R. M. , and N. E.Skakkebaek . 2008. Testicular dysgenesis syndrome: Mechanistic insights and potential new downstream effects. Fertility and Sterility, 89 (2):e33– e38. Supplement 1. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2007.12.026.

Stojanoska, M. M. , N.Milosevic, N.Milic, and L.Abenavoli. (2017). The influence of phthalates and bisphenol A on the obesity development and glucose metabolism disorders. Endocrine, 55 (3):666–81. doi: 10.1007/s12020-016-1158-4.

Wormuth, M. , M.Scheringer, M.Vollenweider, and K.Hungerbühler. (2006). What are the sources of exposure to eight frequently used phthalic acid esters in Europeans? Risk Analysis: An Official Publication of the Society for Risk Analysis, 26 (3):803–24. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2006.00770.x.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites.  POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.  

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