Phthalates are additives usually added to PVC for softening, therefore they are also known as plasticizers. However, they have also been found to migrate from non-PVC food contact materials (reviewed by Bach et al. 2012). Phthalate-based catalysts are also used in the production of polypropylene plastics (Kissin et al. 2008). Exposure to phthalates is of concern, because these substances are linked to reduced fertility, reproductive toxicity and testicular toxicity in animal studies. In people, increased levels of phthalates are associated with adverse health effects, for example obesity and reduced masculinization in newborn boys. For certain phthalates (DEHP, DBP and DIBP) food is thought to be the main exposure source. Increased phthalates levels in people were found to be associated with the consumption of specific food groups, especially fatty foods since phthalates are lipophilic.
Since July 2008 the European Commission has limited the use of phthalates in food contact materials made of plastic (Table). In a 2008/2009 control campaign various packaged food contact materials were sampled in Denmark and analyzed for the presence of phthalates (original study). Most phthalates were found to migrate from glass jar closures manufactured outside the EU, however in a follow up study one year later no phthalates were found in closures. Other phthalate sources were single-use plastic gloves (for catering), conveyor belts, and plastic tubes for liquid foodstuffs (like milk). Phthalate levels did not decrease as clearly in these other product groups in the follow-up sampling, and non-compliant products may still be on the market.
A 2011 scientific study from Italy found high levels of phthalates (DEHP, DBP) in school lunches, sampled during 2010. Phthalate concentrations were shown to increase after packaging and transport in non-PVC containers made of polyethylene-coated aluminium and polyethyleneterephthalate-coated aluminium (original study and discussion of the study). Highest levels of phthalates were found in bread, a finding that was recently confirmed for the Belgian market. It is unclear why phthalate levels were found to be higher in bread, especially since bread is not a fatty food.
Another study carried out on the UK market and published in January 2012 showed that phthalates could be present in foods as a result of migration from food packaging. Of 29 samples, 9 (31%) were shown to be non-compliant with EU regulations. Various different types of retail food packaging materials were found to contain one or several phthalates of interest: a glass jar metal closure with PVC gasket, a plastic container (unidentified plastic) with foiled lidding, a paper/foil/plastic laminate (beverage carton), a foil lined pouch, and several plastic bags in carton boxes. This study confirms that non-PVC packaging may also be a source of phthalates.
In July 2012, enforcement scientists working in Germany and Switzerland published their results from a 2011 campaign on plasticizers in glass packaged oily foods (McCombie et al. 2012). The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal European Food Research and Technology and reported findings of several non-compliant products on the European market. Around one quarter of all samples was non-compliant, either because non-authorized plasticizers were used or because plasticizer levels exceeded the specific migration limits.
|Phthalate (CAS #)||Use, restrictions||Specific migration limit (mg per kg food)|
|di-ethylhexyl phthalate DEHP (117-81-7)||
|Benzyl butylphthalate BBP (85-68-7)||
|dibutylphthalate DBP (84-74-2)||
|Diallyl phthalate (131-17-9)||monomer||ND|
|ortho-Phthalic acid (88-99-3)||monomeradditive||–|
|Diisononyl phthalate (DINP): substance mixture (28553-12-0, 68515-48-0)phthalic acid, diesters with primary, saturated C8-C10alcohols more than 60% C9
9 (applies to group of substances)
|Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP): substance mixture (26761-40-0, 68515-49-1)phthalic acid, diesters with primary, saturated C9-C11alcohols more than 90% C10
9 (applies to group of substances)