Saturday, December 5, 2009


Use of plastics by the food industry is so extensive to day that all other packaging materials are playing secondary role in food preservation, storage and distribution. There are many types of plastics, most of them derived from petroleum hydrocarbons, being used both in rigid as well as flexible formats for packing and storing almost all category of foods, solid or liquid, oily or aqueous, powders or pastes and these materials are tested for food contact application before clearing from the safety angle. By far Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is the most widely used plastic material and also most extensively studied for safety for use in food industry. According to The International Life Science Institute (ILSI), the Washington DC based organization, PET is absolutely safe for food contact application based on their comprehensive study.

"PET itself is biologically inert if ingested, is dermally safe during handling and is not a hazard if inhaled. No evidence of toxicity has been detected in feeding studies using animals. Negative results from Ames tests and studies into unscheduled DNA synthesis indicate that PET is not genotoxic. Similar studies conducted with monomers and typical PET intermediates also indicate that these materials are essentially nontoxic and pose no threats to human health. . . . It is important to stress that the chemistry of compounds that are used to manufacture PET shows no evidence of oestrogenic activity. There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates that the use of PET is not a concern and is perfectly safe in this respect."

Though a clean chit is given to PET based on limited extraction studies using simulating food systems under standard conditions, there can still be lurking dangers due to varying characteristics of foods that are packed, especially in a country like India where there are hundreds of ethic foods with scant information about the inter action between their chemical constituents and the packaging material. In spite of availability of high tech instruments that can detect even traces of chemicals in a simple system, migration into complex food systems cannot be easily assessed. Many consumers do realize this limitation and shun plastics if avoidable.


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