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In Europe and the U.S. 175 hazardous chemicals in food packaging are being used intentionally, even though they’re known for their human health risks, finds a study conducted by the Food Packaging Forum.

Food packaging, including cans, foils, paper, plastics and other containers for processed, packaged foods release synthetic substances into foods for as long as they are in contact, said the study, which was published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, Part A.

Many of these chemicals in food packaging are already classified as “carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reprotoxic,” Food Safety News reports. “Others are considered to interfere with the hormone system, the so-called endocrine disruptors. A third group of chemicals is considered persistent and bioaccumulative.”

The study researchers compared established inventories of hazardous chemicals with databases listing packaged food contact substances, reports Food Safety News. “Among the 175 chemicals of concern are substances causing cancer or inflicting changes on the genes. Others affect an organism’s ability to reproduce, or they act as endocrine disruptors interfering with hormone signaling. In addition, the list contains toxic chemicals that accumulate in the environment or the human body.

“Phthalates, which are widely used as plasticizers, are one prominent example for endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may lead to male infertility, genital malformations and cancer. Benzophenones and organotin compounds add to the list of endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in printing inks and coatings of food contact materials.”

And the study authors noted that these substances in food packaging are “certainly undesirable and also unexpected,” particularly as they are being “intentionally used in food contact materials,” they noted, adding, “chemicals with highly toxic properties may legally be used in the production of food contact materials, but not in other consumer products such as computers, textiles and paints even though exposure through food contact materials may be far more relevant.”

European regulations put the majority of the chemicals under the criteria of its “Substances of Very High Concern” rating, reports Food Safety News.

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Image: Anthony Albright