Food packaging prevents contamination, allows food to be transported easily and extends shelf life. Packaging also provides a surface for labeling and identification of products.
Packaging materials also need to ensure that food is not contaminated from substances that could migrate from the packaging into food.
FSANZ is aware of reports that chemicals from food packaging might migrate into the food or liquid inside the food container or package.
Surveys of chemicals in food
In 2010 FSANZ surveyed a range of foods for chemicals associated with packaging materials to assess whether chemicals that migrate from packaging into foods and beverages present any health and safety risks.
We analysed 65 foods and beverages packaged in glass, paper, plastic or cans for chemicals including phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO), semicarbazide, acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride.
The survey builds on the FSANZ survey of bisphenol A (BPA) in foods published in 2010.
What did the survey find?
The survey results were very reassuring with no detections of phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, semicarbazide, acrylonitrile or vinyl chloride in food samples.
ESBO, which is produced from soybean oil and is used in a range of plastics to give the plastic safe and airtight mechanical properties to form a good seal between a food container and its lid, was detected at very low levels in a small proportion of samples analysed. These levels were well below international migration limits set by the European Union and don’t pose a risk to human health and safety.
Read the 2010 survey by FSANZ: Survey of chemical migration from food contact packaging materials in Australian food.
What is FSANZ doing now about chemicals in food packaging?
In 2015, a consultation paper was released for comment. The paper provided an overview of potential public health risks, the packaging supply chain and current control measures. FSANZ is seeking further information, particularly from smaller to medium sized businesses, about the kinds of packaging being used and measures in place to ensure safety.
How is food packaging regulated?
In Australia, manufacturers are required by the Food Standards Code to ensure food in contact with packaging is safe.
Standard 1.4.1 - Contaminants and Natural Toxicants sets out the maximum levels of some contaminants that may be present in food as a result of contact with packaging material.
In Australia, Standard 3.2.2 – Food Safety Practices and General Requirements has specific requirements for food businesses to ensure that when packaging food, only packaging material that is fit for its intended use and is not likely to cause food contamination must be used.
State and territory Food Acts also make reference to food packaging safety.
In New Zealand, businesses operating a Risk Management Programme under the Animal Products Act 1999 or a Food Safety Programme under the Food Act 1981 must take responsibility for identifying hazards and mitigating them in their operations. This includes hazards associated with materials that come into contact with food.
From 1 March 2016 a revised Food Standards Code will come into effect. For more information on these revisions visit the Code Revision
Standard 1.4.1 – Contaminants and Natural Toxicants
Australian Standard for Plastic Materials for Food Contact Use, AS 2070-1999 (pdf 121 kb)