Scientists have identified more than 3,000 potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in food packaging and other food-related materials, two-thirds of which were not previously known to come into contact with food.
An international group of scientists analyzed more than 1,200 scientific studies in which chemicals were measured in food packaging, processing equipment, tableware and reusable food containers.
A report released Thursday by the Food Packaging Forum, a non-profit organization based in Switzerland, notes that little is known about many of the 3,240 chemicals examined in these studies or their effects on people.
Manufacturers intentionally or unintentionally add these chemicals to packaging and other equipment, said Pete Myers, co-author of the report and founder and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit advocacy group. Either way, many of these chemicals find their way into the human body, he said.
“If we don’t know what it is, we don’t know its toxicity,” Myers said. “The mix of chemicals is just too complicated for us to regulate safely.”
The new analysis, published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, comes amid growing concerns about exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in food and water.
The Food Packaging Forum has created a searchable database of chemicals found in packaging and equipment, known as food contact materials. While many of the chemicals on the list are known hazards such as phthalates and PFAS, others have not been adequately studied, the group said, and their health effects are unclear.
Researchers were shocked to discover chemicals in food contact materials that consumers could not have known about. Only a third of the chemicals studied appeared in a previously compiled database of more than 12,000 chemicals associated with the manufacture of food contact materials.
Previous studies have found potentially dangerous PFAS “forever chemicals” in food packaging. These chemicals have been linked to a list of health problems.
Almost two-thirds of the studies analyzed in the new report focused on chemicals in plastic. Packaging makers often add chemicals without knowing the long-term ramifications, said Jessica Heiges, a UC Berkeley doctoral student who studies disposable food products such as plastic utensils and packaging and did not participate. reporting.
The chemicals “are terrifying because we don’t know what their impacts are,” Heiges said. “What is most alarming is this cocktail of chemicals, the way they interact with each other. Some of them persist in the environment and in our bodies while we consume them.
It’s likely that many of these unknown chemicals are harmful, said Alastair Iles, an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s department of environmental science, policy and management, also not involved in the study.
“The report only underscores our blatant ignorance when it comes to the chemicals people are exposed to every day,” he said. “If we didn’t know there were so many chemicals in packaging, what does that say about our knowledge of chemical hazards?”