Impacts of food contact chemicals on human health: a consensus statement

By Jane Muncke, Anna-Maria Andersson, Thomas Backhaus, Justin M. Boucher, Bethanie Carney Almroth, Arturo Castillo Castillo, Jonathan Chevrier, Barbara A. Demeneix, Jorge A. Emmanuel, Jean-Baptiste Fini, David Gee, Birgit Geueke, Ksenia Groh, Jerrold J. Heindel, Jane Houlihan, Christopher D. Kassotis, Carol F. Kwiatkowski, Lisa Y. Lefferts, Maricel V. Maffini, Olwenn V. Martin, John Peterson Myers, Angel Nadal, Cristina Nerin, Katherine E. Pelch, Seth Rojello Fernández, Robert M. Sargis, Ana M. Soto, Leonardo Trasande, Laura N. Vandenberg, Martin Wagner, Changqing Wu, R. Thomas Zoeller & Martin Scheringer
Environmental Health
March 2, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s12940-020-0572-5

Food packaging is of high societal value because it conserves and protects food, makes food transportable and conveys information to consumers. It is also relevant for marketing, which is of economic significance. Other types of food contact articles, such as storage containers, processing equipment and filling lines, are also important for food production and food supply. Food contact articles are made up of one or multiple different food contact materials and consist of food contact chemicals. However, food contact chemicals transfer from all types of food contact materials and articles into food and, consequently, are taken up by humans. Here we highlight topics of concern based on scientific findings showing that food contact materials and articles are a relevant exposure pathway for known hazardous substances as well as for a plethora of toxicologically uncharacterized chemicals, both intentionally and non-intentionally added. We describe areas of certainty, like the fact that chemicals migrate from food contact articles into food, and uncertainty, for example unidentified chemicals migrating into food. Current safety assessment of food contact chemicals is ineffective at protecting human health. In addition, society is striving for waste reduction with a focus on food packaging. As a result, solutions are being developed toward reuse, recycling or alternative (non-plastic) materials. However, the critical aspect of chemical safety is often ignored. Developing solutions for improving the safety of food contact chemicals and for tackling the circular economy must include current scientific knowledge. This cannot be done in isolation but must include all relevant experts and stakeholders. Therefore, we provide an overview of areas of concern and related activities that will improve the safety of food contact articles and support a circular economy. Our aim is to initiate a broader discussion involving scientists with relevant expertise but not currently working on food contact materials, and decision makers and influencers addressing single-use food packaging due to environmental concerns. Ultimately, we aim to support science-based decision making in the interest of improving public health. Notably, reducing exposure to hazardous food contact chemicals contributes to the prevention of associated chronic diseases in the human population.

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