What are microwave containers made of

Pollutants in food: from packaging to food

Cans, cups, Tetra Paks, cartons - most groceries in the supermarket are packaged. This not only protects them from external influences and extends the shelf life of the goods, but also simplifies transport and storage. However, pollutants can migrate from some packaging into the food.

Contaminants from food packaging

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has set maximum quantities and limit values ​​for substances that are hazardous to health. Nevertheless, critical purchases should continue to be made.

Migration of substances

If ingredients are transferred from the packaging into a packaged food, one speaks ofmigration. How high this can be are regulated by specific limit values ​​(migration limits) based on the daily tolerable intake (TDI - Tolerable Daily Intake).

The extent to which ingredients migrate from the packaging into the food (migration level) depends on various factors. For example from:
• Type of "migrating" substances
• Storage time of the food in the packaging
• Storage temperature of the food in the packaging
• Fat and acid content of the packaged food
• The size of the contact area between the food and the packaging
• Temperature during manufacture
• UV radiation on the food in the packaging

Packaging material: adhesives

Where are adhesives used?

Most packaging and other materials that come into contact with food are made using adhesives. The often very complex recipes contain numerous individual components. Each individual formulation consists of up to 15 components, whereby several hundred substances can be used for adhesives.

Just at resealable packaging Adhesives play a major role - for example in meat and sausage products as well as cheese in slices. With resealable packaging More substances can migrate from the packaging into the food than with non-resealable packaging of a comparable type.


Health effects of adhesives

Problems with residues from adhesives mainly arise when the adhesive is used after the foils have been joined togethernot enough time to harden would have. Primary aromatic amines (PAA) are among the substances that can result from improper procedures. These are of great relevance to health and are considered to be even in small quantitiescarcinogenic.

The supplier of the adhesive must therefore inform the manufacturer of the conditions under which theFormation of aromatic amines is to be prevented and thus no burden the food enters. This does not always work in global trade.

Limits for adhesives

Packaging adhesives that come into contact with food are subject to legal regulations (Article 3 of Regulation (EC) 1935/2004). The European regulation stipulates that no substances may be transferred onto or into the food in quantities that could endanger human health.

In theory, individual measures with specific migration limits can also apply to adhesives. However, there are currently no such adhesive-specific legal regulations in practice. Not even at the national level.

For Germany there are only recommendations from the BfR, but they are not legally binding.

Packaging material: bisphenol A

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is used in industry to manufacture food contact materials from polycarbonate plastics. For example, BPA can be found in:

  • Drinking bottles
  • Household appliances with plastic containers (e.g. kettles)
  • Reusable plastic dishes
  • Internal coatings of tin and beverage cans with metal

BPA has been banned across the EU in baby bottles since 2011.

Health effects of BPA

BPA has been criticized primarily because of its hormone-like effects in the human body. Newborns and infants are considered to be a special risk group. Since even small amounts of BPA can have an estrogen-like effect, there is a risk that all processes in the body that are dependent on this hormone will be disturbed. Numerous health effects are discussed, such as:

  • Premature sexual maturity in girls
  • Decreased sperm count and quality in men
  • Increase in behavioral disorders such as ADHD
  • Increased risk of hormone-related cancers (e.g. breast, prostate cancer)

Since 2017, BPA has been classified by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) as a substance of very high concern due to its harmful effects.

In January 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) significantly tightened the limit value for the intake of bisphenol A based on new research data. It lowered the tolerable daily intake (TDI) from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight to four micrograms. This value is provisional until the results of ongoing long-term studies can be included in the assessment.

The consumer advice centers are in favor of completely banning BPA from food contact materials as a precaution.

The BfR also offers more information on bisphenol A.

Packaging material: plasticizers (phthalates)

Where are plasticizers used?

Phthalates are chemical compounds that are used asPlasticizers for plastics can be used. Some fresh food counters in retail use PVC films containing phthalates to pack fresh meat.

Plasticizers are also often contained in the sealing ring in the screw cap of glasses. In the meantime, however, there are also PVC-free alternatives that can usually be recognized by the blue color of the sealing ring.

However, phthalates can also get into food during production. For example, when vegetable oil is pumped through hoses containing PVC.

Health effects of plasticizers

Some plasticizers have harmful effects, e.g. B. on the liver or they affect the endocrine system and reproductive capacity.

Limits for plasticizers

The European Food Safety Authority has assessed the health of plasticizers and lists all permitted phthalates as well as their specific migration values ​​and use restrictions in the EU plastics regulation.

There are therefore different limit values ​​for the various phthalates - but in some cases they are also completely prohibited, e.g. B. in children's toys and baby items.

The BfR also offers more information on softening.


Packaging material: Unintentionally added substances (NIAS)

Where are NIAS used?

In the production of packaged food, inadvertently added substances can migrate into food. Experts speak of "Non Intentionally Added Substances" (NIAS).

NIAS describes all substances in materials that come into contact with food that were not deliberately added for technical reasons. They come from z. B. from contaminated raw materials. In addition, they can arise as reaction and degradation products in the manufacture and use of plastic objects.

Health effects of NIAS

So far, little research has been carried out into how dangerous the mostly unknown NIAS are to health. From the point of view of the consumer advice centers, there is a need for research, information and regulation.

Degradation products of adhesives in composite materials or nonylphenol, which is harmful to fertility, are currently being discussed in particular.

The EU Plastics Regulation (Regulation No. 10/2011) states that impurities as well as reaction and degradation products must also be assessed by the manufacturer in accordance with internationally recognized scientific principles of risk assessment. The European Food Safety Authority also takes NIAS into account in its risk assessments.

However, it is recognized that it is not possible to consider all of these substances and include them in the risk assessment. NIAS are moving more and more into focus, es but there are still no general limit values.

10 tips for handling packaged food

  1. Cut down on the purchase of packaged foods as far as possible. In particular, avoid packaging with little content. Because the larger the contact area between food and packaging, the higher the risk that undesirable substances will be transferred to the food.
  2. Make more use of it loose, unpackaged goods - e.g. B. at the bakery or at the fruit, vegetable or meat counter.
  3. Do you preferPackaging made of glass, e.g. B. Glass bottles for milk or yogurt. With glass (and porcelain) there is no mass transfer.
  4. Fill in products with longer shelf life (e.g. pasta or rice) after opening at home in a suitable vessel around (e.g. made of glass or porcelain).
  5. Clean vessels For longer storage of food, always thoroughly before using it for the first time. With rising temperatures increases the risk that undesirable substances from packaging will migrate into the food. Heat ready meals therefore not in the purchased packaging, but in microwave-safe dishes.
  6. Exception: A corresponding label on the food packaging states that it is expressly suitable for this.
  7. Packaging is for thesingle, dedicated use intended - unless there is a note about further use. Do not use yogurt cups, ice boxes or other packaging to freeze, warm or store food.
  8. Especially withfatty and acidic foods Suitable packaging is important. Because here the risk is particularly high that food will absorb ingredients from the packaging. At home, transfer fatty and acidic foods into suitable containers for food contact (glass or porcelain).
  9. The same goes forsealed foods. Take this out of the packaging at home and transfer the goods to suitable containers for contact with food - even if you want to freeze the goods.
  10. Also from opened cans you should transfer foods before putting them in the refrigerator.

"Smart" and "active" packaging

"Intelligent packaging" monitor the condition of packaged food and provide information, among other things. about the freshness of the food. Various techniques can be used for this.

So-called "active packaging" actively ensures better quality retention of packaged food. We have summarized here how this works and for which foods active packaging makes sense.

This content was created by the joint editorial team in cooperation with the consumer advice center Schleswig-Holstein for the network of consumer advice centers in Germany.