On September 7, 2016 the U.S. non-profit environmental and health organizations Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund released a report entitled “What’s in the package? – Unveiling the toxic secrets of food and beverage packaging.” About 4,000 to 6,000 chemicals are used in food packaging in the U.S. and the majority of these “indirect food additives” has not undergone any safety assessment, the report states. According to a study by the Food Packaging Forum, at least 175 of the U.S. food packaging chemicals are either known or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), or are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reprotoxic (CMR) (FPF reported). Examples of these chemicals include bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7), phthalates, nonylphenol (CAS 104-40-5), styrene (CAS 100-42-5), fluorochemicals, and perchlorate (CAS 14797-73-0). Chemicals can migrate from packaging into food and food packaging chemicals are widely present in the U.S. population (blood, urine), the report illustrates. Therefore, diet is an important contributor to the population’s overall exposure to chemicals, the report explains.

The report further outlines the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory program for chemicals in food packaging, explaining Food Contact Substance (FCS) Notifications and the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) determination (FPF reported). Particular focus is laid on the regulatory framework in the State of California, explaining the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law (Sherman Law), the Toxics in Packaging Prevention Act, and Proposition 65 (FPF reported). The report highlights that “the FDA’s regulation of food packaging chemicals allows ample protection of corporate trade secrets” and together with GRAS determinations leaves the FDA and U.S. consumers in the dark about what is in food packaging (and food) and whether it is safe.

In conclusion, the report exemplifies that “transparency can drive companies to reduce the presence of known toxic chemicals in their products.” The report thus recommends 1) to base disclosure of a chemical on its presence and not on an estimate of exposure, 2) to prohibit trade secret claims for food packaging chemicals that are directly consumed, 3) to display food packaging ingredients on the product label, and 4) to update the Sherman Law to address the stortcomings of the FDA regulatory program.

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Clean Water Action (September 7, 2016). “What’s in the package?


Clean Water Action & Clean Water Fund (August 2016). “What’s in the package? – Unveiling the toxic secrets of food and beverage packaging.(pdf)