Are the Chemicals Used in Food Packaging Harmful to Human Health?

We are well aware of the damaging environmental impacts of food packaging. But are there also health risks involved? After all, all those materials used in storing and packaging are in direct contact with the food we eat. 

In 2014, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a paper that suggests synthetic chemicals used in food packaging can have adverse effects on our health. And even though the exposure to these chemicals is low, the authors note that it’s chronic, and thus, possibly harmful in the long run. 

So, let’s find out why all those wraps and cartons might be more dangerous than it seems at first. 

Food Contact Materials

Food contact materials, or FCMs for short, are all materials, usually synthetic, that come into direct contact with the food. This can include packaging, containers, kitchen equipment, beverage cartons, etc., which are mostly made of rubber, plastics, paper, and metal. 

According to experts, there are three reasons why chronic exposure to chemicals in these materials is a ground for concern.

1. Exposure to Known Toxicants 

The first reason for concern is that some of the known toxicants, like the carcinogenic substance formaldehyde, are legally used in the production of FCMs. Plastic bottles, for example, used for carbonated drinks, usually contain formaldehyde. 

2. Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors

Another potential danger is that FCMs contain endocrine disruptors, which are hormonally active agents that can interfere with the hormonal system. Some of the endocrine disruptors present in FCMs are tributyltin, bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and triclosan. Long-term exposure to these chemicals can cause a variety of developmental disorders.

3. Intentional Use of Chemical Substances 

And the final reason for concern is the number of known chemicals used intentionally in FCMs, which exceeds 4,000. What is more, potential cellular mutations caused by FCMs are not considered during routine toxicology analysis, which is why even the chemical regulatory procedures might be inadequate.

Establishing the Connection

Establishing a bond between chronic diseases and long-term FCM exposure is quite challenging because finding a population unexposed to FCMs for comparison of results is nearly impossible. Moreover, there would likely be substantial disparities in exposure levels of individuals and specific population groups. 

Thus, experts suggest that population-based assessments should be used along with biomonitoring to uncover potential connections between chronic conditions and FCMs. 

All in all, this is an issue that, more or less, pertains to the whole world population. And since most foods nowadays are packaged, the entire population is at risk of exposure to FCMs. Thus, when it comes to health ramifications of long-term exposure to these chemicals, the rifts in our knowledge should be filled swiftly.

[1] “Food Packaging Chemicals ‘May Be Harmful to Human Health’.” Medical News Today [Online] Available at: [Accessed on: 6 July 2020]