Dangers/risks associated with food contact materials

Contact material manufacturing uses many chemical substances, of which only a fraction is regulated by the contact material legislation. Therefore there is not necessarily reliable information about the safety of all ingredients, and operators must make their own assessments about the safety of the materials. People are subjected to the same chemicals from several sources, and in the end it is impossible to say what the share of contact materials is in this chemical stress. There is also still insufficient knowledge about the combined effects of chemicals.

However, food is always in contact with some contact materials, usually several of them during its lifecycle. The safety of contact materials significantly affects the safety of the food itself, and every time the chemical risks of food are discussed, it should be noted that one potential source of chemical stress are the substances possibly transferred from contact materials into food.

From time to time, there are headlines about the chemical dangers/risks connected to contact materials. Among other things, contact materials have been connected to several chemicals disrupting human hormones, causing cancer and affecting genomes. The problem is that demonstrating these effects is difficult because they are seldom acute and only appear over longer periods of time. Often adverse effects are only recognised after extended use, and a single exposure usually has no effects on human health.

More discussion, research and risk assessment is required from operators, scientists and authorities. The safety of contact materials is in the interests of contact material operators, food industry operators and authorities.

The list below contains examples of chemical dangers/risks connected to contact materials over time, and their sources:

  • Phthalates, epoxy derivatives and bisphenol A from plastics, tin can coatings
    • Can disrupt hormones, are so called endocrine disruptors
  • Heavy metals from ceramics, recycled paper or paperboard, printing inks, metal dishes
    • Accumulate in the body which can cause various disorders, such as neurological disorders, high blood pressure, tumours and neural symptoms
  • Volatile substances (e.g. amines, chloroanisoles, aldehydes, sulphides, chlorhexidine, free fatty acids) from plastics, paper and paperboard, printing inks, lacquers
    • Often cause problems with smell and taste, can also cause cancer
  • Mineral oil residue (MOSH/MOAH) from for example packaging made with recycled paperboard
    • May damage genomes and cause cancer, some may disrupt the liver
  • Fluorine compounds from Teflon articles
    • May cause learning disabilities and behavioural disabilities, as well as liver diseases, may impair the human immune system and disrupt hormones
  • Various printing ink ingredients in printed contact materials, e.g. ITX photoionising substances and UV printing inks
    • May damage DNA

Links to safety information for separate substances:

Finnish Food Authority’s publication on chemical risks of food and tap water: https://www.evira.fi/tietoa-evirasta/julkaisut/elintarvikkeet/julkaisusarjat/elintarvikkeiden-ja-talousveden-kemialliset-vaaratuusi-sivu/ 

Bisphenol A 

Mineral oil residue (MOAH and MOSH compounds) 

Nanomaterials 

Fluorinated compounds  

Dioxins and PCB compounds 

Phthalates