Key Chemicals of Concern in Food Packaging and Food Handling Equipment

EDF has identified chemicals in food packaging and food handling equipment where the potential health impacts from their migration into food raises serious concerns. These chemicals in virgin materials may also contaminate the recycling stream and undermine their recyclability. By ensuring future food packaging is free of these chemicals, companies can improve consumer trust while minimizing the impact of future regulations on their bottom line. In the tables below, we list key chemicals of concern in food packaging. Taking action today helps to protect consumer health now and in the future.

Intentionally added ingredients
Chemical or classCASRNHealth concernsAuthoritative citationsRole in virgin packaging
Ortho-phthalates*VariousEndocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHC; EU Priority ED; CSPCPrimarily used in plastic but many other uses such as inks. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances)*VariousDevelopmental toxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulationVariesGrease-proofing agent in paper. High concern in virgin paper.
Long-chain (8 or more carbons)VariousSystemic, reproductive and developmental toxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulationCalifornia Prop 65;
EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; FDA; ATSDR; EPA Drinking Water; Washington State
Short-chain (fewer than 8 carbons)VariousSystemic, reproductive and developmental toxicity, Persistence, Highly mobile in waterEU REACH SVHC; ATSDR (some chemicals); Washington State
Perchlorate14797-73-0Endocrine disruption, developmental toxicityEU REACH Annex VI; EPA Drinking waterAnti-static agent used in plastic for dry food packaging and handling equipment. High concern in virgin plastic. Moderate concern in virgin paper.
Benzophenone119-61-9CarcinogenicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU Priority ED; IARC 2B; FDAPlasticizer in rubber articles intended for repeat use. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Ortho-phthalates: Contamination of food is widespread. FDA is currently reviewing petitions to revoke their uses. Decision anticipated in 2019.
  • PFAS: FDA banned use of long-chain PFAS in 2016 but uses may continue. State of Washington, concerned that paper and cardboard food packaging treated with PFAS may be contaminating composting and paper recycling processes post-consumer, has prohibited PFAS use effective in 2022, pending a safer alternatives assessment.
  • Perchlorate: Food contamination is widespread. Young children’s exposure increased after approval. FDA is currently considering whether to reverse its May 2017 decision allowing the use to continue. Decision anticipated in 2019.
  • Benzophenone: In Oct. 2018, FDA banned use as a flavor and in food packaging effective Oct. 2020.
Residual processing aids
Chemical or classCASRNHealth concernsAuthoritative citationsRole in virgin packaging
Bisphenol A (BPA) and related compoundsVariousEndocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicityVariesUsed to make: epoxy lining in metal cans, polycarbonate plastic, and ink.
BPA*80-05-7Endocrine disruption, Developmental toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; EU Priority EDHigh concern in virgin plastic, moderate in paper.
Bisphenol B77-40-7EU REACH SVHC; EU Priority ED
Bisphenol F620-92-8Endocrine disruption, Reproductive toxicityIPCP 2018 EDC report
Bisphenol S80-09-1
Toluene*108-88-3Reproductive and developmental toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VISolvent often used in printing inks. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Ethyl glycol (2-ethoxy ethanol)*110-80-5Reproductive toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHCSolvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Methyl glycol (2-methoxyethanol)*109-86-4Reproductive toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI, Annex XVII, and SVHCSolvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP)872-50-4Reproductive and developmental toxicityCalifornia Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and XVII and SVHCSolvent often used in printing inks. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Bisphenol compounds: FDA banned BPA use in baby bottles and as a coating of infant formula packaging based on abandoned uses. BPS became a common replacement to BPA in packaging, but recent studies demonstrate similar health concerns to BPA.
  • NMP: Banned by EPA in paint strippers sold for non-commercial use.
Contaminants
Chemical or classCASRNHealth concernsAuthoritative citationsRole in virgin packaging
Heavy MetalsVariousCarcinogenicity, neurotoxicityVariesVaries
Lead*7349-92-1California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; IARC 2A; FDA; CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC; EPA PBTUse banned. High concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Arsenic7440-38-2California Prop 65 (inorganic arsenic); EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC (some forms); IARC 1; FDA (inorganic); EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROCModerate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Cadmium*7440-43-9California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC; IARC 1; FDA; CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROCUse banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Chromium VI*18540-29-9California Prop 65: EU REACH Annex VI and SVHC (some forms); CONEG; EPA Drinking Water; NTP ROC; NIOSH OCUse banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.
Mercury*7439-97-6California Prop 65; EU REACH Annex VI; FDA; CONEG; EPA PBTUse banned in 18 states. Moderate concern in virgin plastic and paper.

Notes:

  • Heavy metals: 18 states have set a 100 ppm limit for total concentration of lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury in packaging and components. Heavy metals shown to cause harm at very low-level exposures can result in significant toxicity, and some can build up in the body. FDA’s Toxic Elements Working Group, whose mission in part is to develop a strategy to prioritize and modernize activities with respect to food/toxic element combinations, is focused on children’s exposure.

* Starred chemicals are also recommended for minimization or phase out in “Food Packaging Product Stewardship Considerations,” a set of best practices released by the Food Safety Alliance for Packaging, a part of the Institute of Packaging Professionals, to reduce problematic chemicals in food packaging.

Download the Key Chemicals of Concern in Food Packaging and Food Handling Equipment tables here.