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Chemicals in food packaging

(August 2018)

Food packaging prevents contamination, allows food to be transported easily and extends shelf life. From time to time concerns are raised about chemicals migrating from packaging into food. To address this concern FSANZ undertook a project to assess whether there were any unmanaged risks from packaging chemicals migrating into food.

This project (Proposal P1034) was completed in October 2017.  

After a thorough safety assessment involving targeted and public consultation, a number of surveys and a dietary exposure assessment, FSANZ has determined that estimated dietary exposure to these chemicals is low and not of concern for human health.

Surveillance work for P1034

FSANZ undertook a screening survey of packaging chemicals as part of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study. Our initial assessment did not identify any public health and safety concerns for 28 of the 30 chemicals. There were no detections for half of the chemicals and detections at low levels (parts per million or part per billion) for the rest of the chemicals.

However the screening study identified that more investigation was needed for two phthalates [di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP)], to determine whether there are any risks to public health and safety from these chemicals.

FSANZ undertook a follow up survey to properly determine the risk from the two phthalates and five other plasticisers. Results from this survey of 65 foods (sampled from across five jurisdictions) found that the estimated dietary exposure was below the tolerable daily intakes (TDIs) for these substances and does not pose a public health concern.

FSANZ also recently completed a survey investigating the migration of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) from paperboard packaging into Australian foods. The survey indicated that the levels of MOH from food packaging in Australian foods are very low and unlikely to be of public health concern.

A further survey (undertaken by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries) of packaging chemicals including phthalates, printing inks and photoinitiators in New Zealand foods also found that the estimated dietary exposure to these chemicals is  low and not of concern for human health. Read the study.

FSANZ will continue to monitor the science in this area and is developing guidance, particularly for small and medium size businesses, to help them ensure packaging is safe.

Consultation on P1034

Consultation with a range of industry, government and consumer stakeholders (through meetings, surveys and responses to the consultation papers) guided FSANZ in its considerations during this work.

Preliminary consultations were undertaken with an industry Advisory Group comprising peak bodies, packaging industry members and large manufacturers/brand owners. FSANZ subsequently established a Packaging Advisory Group (PAG) which had broader stakeholder representation, including smaller industry members, a consumer representative and jurisdictions.

The proposal work also included two rounds of public consultation.

Previous surveys of food packaging chemicals

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 built on the FSANZ survey of bisphenol A (BPA) in foods published in 2010.

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.

How is food packaging regulated?

In Australia and New Zealand, 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 2014 must take responsibility for identifying hazards and mitigating them in their operations. This includes hazards associated with materials that come into contact with food.

More information

Page last updated 6 December 2023