The foods most likely to be contaminated by plastic packaging

You may not have heard of phthalates (pronounced ‘thalates’) but you come into contact with them every day. This group of chemicals have many uses, including the ability to soften plastic, making it easier to use and more malleable.

Phthalates are found in PVC tubing, gaskets, printing inks, solvents, coatings and adhesives. Plastic prints on t-shirts are more likely made using phthalates.

They are also found in some of the packaging that goes around our food. Laminated aluminium foil, clingfilm and coated paper are all food packagings that may use phthalates, and now a study by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has found a worrying level of phthalates in certain foods.

Fairfax media reports that the FSANZ study found two types of the chemicals, which are known endocrine disrupters, had leached from packaging into fresh bread, takeaway hamburgers and pizzas.

Four out of six takeaway hamburgers tested for the phthalate DEHP contained between 67 and 180 per cent more than the amount permitted under European Union laws to be released from packaging into food, which is 1.5 milligrams a kilogram, while one sample of  bread contained 347 per cent more than the limit.

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FSANZ also found the phthalate DINP present in a takeaway hamburger sample at 14mg a kilo and a pizza topped with meat and vegetables had 16mg a kilo – both of which exceeded the “tolerable daily intake” levels if one were to eat 600 grams of the food.

The first phthalate has been shown to affect testes function in rats while DINP has been shown to affect the liver and kidney, the FSANZ report says.

The report looked at 30 different chemicals and only the two phthalates were found at concerning levels, prompting further study. All together, half the 30 chemicals tested were detected in foods, these included bisphenol A and epoxidised soybean oil.

However, FSANZ says the risk from toxins transferred to foods is low.

Chief executive Steve McCutcheon said, “After undertaking a very conservative safety assessment on these very low levels, FSANZ has concluded there are no safety concerns.

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“The screening study identified that further work was required for two of the chemicals tested for [phthalates] and FSANZ will be sampling a wider range of foods for these chemicals so a full dietary exposure assessment can be undertaken.”


Do you worry about plastic packaging and food? Would you prefer to buy your food in something else?