The synthetic chemicals that go into the packaging, storage, and processing of foodstuffs might be detrimental to human health over a length of time, environmental scientists have warned in a commentary in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
This is because most of these substances are not inert and can leach into the foods we eat, they say.
Despite the fact that some of these chemicals are regulated, people who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives, say the authors.
And far too little is known about their long-term impact, including at crucial stages of human development, such as in the womb, which is “surely not justified on scientific grounds”, the authors claim.
They point out that lifelong exposure to food contact materials or FCMs – substances used in packaging, storage, processing, or preparation equipment — “is a cause for concern for several reasons”.
These include the fact that known toxicants, such as formaldehyde, a cancer causing substance, are legally used in these materials.
Formaldehyde is widely present, albeit at low levels, in plastic bottles used for fizzy drinks and melamine tableware, reported Science Daily.
Secondly, other chemicals known to disrupt hormone production also crop up in FCMs, including bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates.
“Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,” the authors point out.
And, thirdly, the total number of known chemical substances used intentionally in FCMs exceeds 4,000.
“Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled,” they urge.