Wednesday, February 2, 2011


There is no denying the fact that advent of plastics has revolutionized the way foods are prepared, packed and sold to the consumers all over the world. No processed food can be free from contaminating chemicals migrating from the packaging material into the contents by direct contact either during preparation or packing. Safety of plastics that go in for food packing is governed by the quality specifications arrived at and agreed to universally through well designed tests and assessment procedures. Even then there is nothing like absolute safety when it comes to plastics compared to glass or stainless steel. Recent revelation that clearing the chemical Polyfluoroalkyl Phosphate Esters (PAPs) in making wrappers for many foods is under a cloud because of ignoring the effect of its break down product Perflourinated Carboxylic Acids (PFCAs) under earlier studies. Here is a take on this new development which may call for re-assessment of the safety of wrappers containing PAPs.

"Chemicals that line everything from fast-food wrappers to linings in pizza boxes can migrate into food, then get ingested and cause chemical contamination in the blood, according to new research from scientists at the University of Toronto. Perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCAs) are the breakdown products of chemicals used to make non-stick and water- and stain-repellent products, including food packaging. PFCAs are found in the human body all over the world. According to the UT scientists' research, much of this chemical residue in the bloodstream may come from the consumption of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters (PAPs), grease proofing agents applied to paper food packaging such as fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags. In the study, rats were exposed to PAPs either orally or by injection and monitored for a three-week period to track the concentrations of the PAPs and PFCA metabolites, PFOA, in their blood. Human exposure to PAPs had already been established by the scientists in a previous study. Researchers used the PAP concentrations previously observed in human blood together with the PAP and PFCA concentrations observed in the rats to calculate human exposure from PAP metabolism. They found the concentrations of PFCA metabolites to be significant, indicating that metabolism of PAPs could be a major source of human exposure to these chemicals. "The reason these chemicals were originally approved to be applied to paper food wrappers is because their acute toxicity is low," said Jessica D'Eon, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of chemistry at the University of Toronto and the paper's lead author. "But the product they're metabolized into, PFCAs, has a much longer lifetime in the body—almost five years. Our study confirms that you could have relatively low exposure to PAPs, and still have relatively high concentration of PFCAs in the body."

Though the above findings need to be confirmed by more authentic investigations, nonetheless doubt has been cast on safety of many packing materials and non-stick cooking paraphernalia containing PAPs currently being used. Probably packaging industry may come up with alternate chemicals with much more safety credentials so that PAPs are slowly phased out. The necessity for close and continuous vigilance of packaging materials used by the food industry for achieving increased margin of safety for the consumers cannot be overstated in view of the above developments.


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