Can food contact put food at risk ... chemicals including BPA?
Even when food is produced with high food safety standards in use, the actions of one subsequent area of the food chain could still put that food at risk. By ‘at risk’ we mean the food could cause a consumer to become ill or worse.
For example, should meat be processed by the abattoir correctly, be transported to the secondary processor under good temperature control. Be then processed into other products – eg processed into burger patties, packaged and delivered appropriately and safely to a fast food business, cafe or restaurant under good temperature control, standards at the final point could still put the consumer at risk of illness.
We all know that food contact surfaces need to be clean – including, benches, implements (knives, spatulas, etc), cutting boards, hands, gloves – all of the things that we think of before the food is cooked, however we don’t very often think about packaging.
Packaging for food including the plastic it may be kept in before cooking, the takeaway container or bag (which can be a ‘Styrofoam’ type product, cardboard or soft or hard plastic), the plastic lining in cans, etc can all present potential health risks.
Aside from the hygiene risks of improper storage of packaging, if packaging is not produced correctly using food safe chemicals, it can present a chemical hazard to the consumer. Chemicals could leach from the container into the food. This can happen especially if the food is hot, if the food is stored in the container for long periods of time, if plastic containers are used over & over again (washed in dishwashers, re-used again & again allowing the plastic to start to break down), or if the plastic container was not food safe to begin with. Some “cheap plastic imports” may look the same as other food safe containers but if standards were not maintained to produce something which is food safe, or if the container was not produced by the factory for specific use with food, then there may be chemicals in that container which could leach into food causing illness to any person consuming that food who may have sensitivity to the chemical.
Some chemicals which have been used to produce plastics can affect the body in many ways: genes, hormones, the brain, nervous system & some can also be carcinogenic. Many chemicals which are used to produce plastics are considered food safe, however there are many ongoing studies conducted into the myriad of chemicals most of us are exposed to on a daily basis to check this.
One of the chemicals which has been of concern lately is BPA. Many people are avoiding any plastics containing BPA & looking for BPA free items for themselves and for their children. According to the US FDA Press Statement 23 Feb 2018, the FDA, through the CLARITY-BPA study continues to monitor effects of BPA. It has concluded, for now, that BPA in low levels in food is relatively safe. The CLARITY-BPA study has found some concerns, through their research into BPA effects on rodents, which require further investigation, but until it concludes there are no bans on this chemical, nor any definitive answer.
Manufacturers, however, are listening to public concern and are creating more & more BPA free products.
The public continues to err on the side of caution – and rightly so in my opinion ... you make up your own mind.