Last week was a rough week. On Tuesday, I attended a hearing during which a number of people, including a state senator, testified that foam polystyrene causes cancer. On Wednesday, a study was released that claimed "fast food packaging," and more specifically paper wraps, bags, containers and cups, contained potentially harmful chemicals.
In both cases, I wanted to scream. Of course, I showed restraint (a hard thing for me to do for anyone who knows me!). What I calmly reminded folks was that foodservice packaging is made from a wide variety of materials. These products go through rigorous testing to ensure that they meet stringent food packaging regulations, ensuring the safe delivery of foodservice items to consumers. After all, single-use foodservice packaging was invented over 100 years ago to protect public health – not compromise it.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates all food packaging materials because these items may contain substances that can "migrate" in very low doses to foods or beverages. The migration itself is not the issue – it’s what’s migrating and how much of it that the FDA is particularly concerned with.
At the heart of both issues last week is confusion and misunderstandings (or misrepresentations, in some cases) about the facts.
Styrene is both naturally present in foods such as strawberries, peaches, cinnamon, beef and coffee and also produced in the processing of beer, wine and cheese. It can also be made synthetically and used as a building block in plastics like polystyrene food containers and cups. When the industry provided updated styrene migration data to the FDA a few years ago, the data showed that current exposures to styrene from the use of polystyrene food packaging remain extremely low. How low? More than 10,000 times below the safety limit set by FDA. At the time, the toxicologist who heads National Toxicology Program stated "Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam...In finished products, certainly styrene is not an issue."
In the case of paper foodservice packaging, last week's study pointed out that many of the items tested showed evidence of "perfluorinated chemicals." This, however, should not be a surprise since the PFCs currently in the marketplace (referred to as "short chain" or "C6" chemicals) have been rigorously reviewed by the FDA and found to be safe for their intended use. Admittedly, the study did find that 6 of the over 400 items tested showed evidence of "long chain" or "C8" chemicals, which are no longer made in the US (or Japan or the EU). The researchers couldn't explain this, although it's possible that these items were manufactured legally in another country and wrongly exported to the U.S.
One of the co-authors took it upon themselves to share the list of brands included in the study, the number of items tested and what percentage of the items tested positive for fluorine. While the report argued that the presence of fluorine may be used as an indicator when testing for PFCs, this co-author failed to delineate between the allowed "short chain" and not allowed "long chain" chemicals, causing unnecessary alarm.
Foodservice packaging is always innovating to meet the changing needs of the customers, while adhering to strict regulations. Interestingly, the tests in the recent PFC study were conducted in 2014 and 2015, and since then we've seen probably a half dozen companies come out with new barrier coatings that do not use fluorochemicals. These, too, would have gone through the FDA approval process.
So, enjoy your take-out foods and beverages knowing that foodservice packaging is safe. For more information on these topics, visit www.youknowstyrene.org
, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's PFAS webpage
and the resources available from the FluoroCouncil
Posted By Lynn M. Dyer (President) | 2/7/2017 8:46:48 AM