Consumers are increasingly concerned about the chemicals in their food.

The food supply chain is complex, resulting in a number of ways that chemicals of concern can contaminate food. For example, chemicals directly added to packaging may migrate into food, heavy metals may contaminate the soil where ingredients are sourced, or incidental contamination could occur at food handling and processing plants.

When meeting consumer demand for safer food, it’s important for your strategy to include the minimization of chemical contaminants. In our work with companies and in the regulatory space, EDF has prioritized action on certain chemical contaminants based on sufficient evidence that these chemicals harm fetal and infant brain development, and food is a meaningful source of children’s exposure.

Chemicals recommended for initial action:

  • Perchlorate: Perchlorate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can harm childhood brain development and is, therefore, of major concern for pregnant women and children. Perchlorate is present in almost all food, including those marketed for young children. Perchlorate primarily enters food from plastic packaging and food handling equipment for dry food and from degraded bleach. There are a number of ways that you can minimize perchlorate contamination. Learn more about how Perchlorate can be reduced.
  • Ortho-phthalates: Ortho-phthalates are a class of at least 28 chemicals that are used in food packaging and handling equipment. There is growing evidence from scientific studies that ortho-phthalates may harm the developing fetus and young children. Food appears to be the primary source of exposure. To proactively manage your company’s risk, we recommend avoiding all ortho-phthalates and adopting safer alternatives.  
  • Lead: In 2017, EDF published a report finding that food is a meaningful source of children’s exposure to lead. The report estimated that eliminating lead in food would save society more than $27 billion annually. Although we’ve seen some improvement in lead levels in certain baby foods, more action is needed. EDF recommends manufacturers prioritize lead contaminant minimization in ingredient sourcing, set a goal of less than 1 ppb of lead in infant and toddler food, and test more frequently during processing to allow for corrective action on lead.

For additional information on managing chemicals of concern in food packaging, the “Food Packaging Product Stewardship Considerations” published by the Institute of Packaging Professionals in March 2018, provides recommendations for eliminating or minimizing a long list of chemicals of concern in packaging.

Lastly, informing consumers of the actions your company is taking to drive down the levels of chemicals of concern in food is an important part of any safer food strategy.