The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), a U.S. regulatory body that governs the country’s food and drugs industry, has reportedly failed to address the various toxic chemicals that are present in food packaging. While food and produce is thoroughly checked for foreign pathogens as per guidelines, the aspect that has stayed unaddressed is how toxic chemicals in food packaging are compromising food safety.
FDA food additives norms contain a procedure that helps determine when the transfer of a food contact substance into the food is highly trivial and thus would not need regulation of that substance as an actual food additive. The regulatory body exempts any food contact substance that has a dietary exposure that is lower than 0.5 ppb. However, if the substance is already cleared as a directive additive, its exposure from food contact should be less than 1% of the ADI (Accepted Daily Intake).
This determination process does not account for the process of bioaccumulation, which is the accumulated amount of chemicals present in various food inside an individual’s diet. Several health problems linked with food additives generally happen when the population regularly consumes these substances in small amounts for a long time.
Presently, three chemicals found inside food packaging are gaining attention owing to their adverse effects on a person’s body. These chemicals are BPA (bisphenol A), PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and phthalates.
Phthalates are found in foods like sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and Kraft’s macaroni & cheese. These chemicals have the potential to disrupt hormones and have also been associated with genital birth defects withing infant males. The chemical consumption has also resulted in behavior and learning problems among older children.
BPA, a safe indirect food additive as per the FDA, is a commonly known endocrine disruptor. The chemical is capable of acting like estrogen within the body, which can change the puberty time, increase body fat, reduce fertility, and impact the immune and nervous systems. The chemical is also linked with heart disease and childhood obesity.
PFAs, the third most prominent chemicals are used in fast-food wrappers, pizza boxes, compostable food containers, and popcorn bags. These chemicals are linked to several health issues, like reproductive problems, cancers, high cholesterol, liver injury, and thyroid function.
As the demand and consumption of packaged food has increased tremendously during the pandemic, too much bioaccumulation of these substances could potentially cause significant harm to the country’s population in the long run.