I was running some training for a client recently and a discussion started about the plastic water bottle that one of my students was using. She had finished the juice and had washed out the botlle to use as her water bottle at work.
Half the class were telling her that she should not have done that because of all the bad chemicals in the plastic, which she was now absorbing every time she drank from the reused bottle.
The other half of the class were just as adamantly saying that with all the laws that are now in place in this country, reusing bottles like this is fine and is very good because it also helps the environment due to less waste.
So which argument was correct?
Dr Ian Musgrave, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine, School of Medicine Sciences, within the Discipline of Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide has commented that “Formaldehyde is also present in many foods naturally, to consume as much formaldehyde as is present in a 100g apple you would need to drink at least 20 litres of mineral water that had been stored in PET bottles. Obviously the concern about formaldehyde from food packaging is significantly overrated, unless we are willing to place ‘potential cancer hazard’ stickers on fresh fruit and vegetables. While we should not be dismissive of the potential for undesirable materials in packaging to migrate into food, the risks are exceptionally small.”
The comments were made after the Food Packaging Forum Foundation claimed that many of the materials in food packaging could leach into the food they contain.
The Food Packaging Forum Foundation (FPFF) is based in Switzerland and aims “to enhance basic understanding of scientific principles and recent scientific findings that are relevant to the field of food packaging health”, through working with scientific experts. The Forum is funded by corporates as well as the European Environment and Health Initiative.
The FPFF suggest that at this point too little is actually known about the potential long term effects of many of the chemicals that are used to make food packaging. The comments about the food contact materials (FCMs), including formaldehyde, were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in February2014.
The article recommends that there is an urgent need for population-based assessment and biomonitoring to determine if there is any health issues associated with food packaging.
Dr Oliver Jones, Co-director of the RMIT University Centre of Environmental Sustainability and Remediation agrees with Dr Musgrave and said; “The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion (including that from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) is that there is no health or safety issue from these chemicals at the levels people are exposed to. More research is always welcome from a scientist’s point of view, but I would hazard a guess that the high levels of fat, sugar and salt in a lot of today’s processed food are more of a health concern than any migration of chemicals from the packaging.”
So it seems that, as with the two groups in my class, even the experts have differing opinions.
Written by Rachelle Williams – the Green Food Safety Coach