Food Contact Materials and Your Health: Tips for a Safer Approach

Recently, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a strong advisory urging both consumers and food vendors to refrain from using newspapers in any capacity related to packing, serving, or storing food items. The FSSAI emphasized the potential health hazards associated with the ink used in newspapers, citing its composition of bioactive materials known to have adverse effects on health when ingested. Additionally, these printing inks may contain chemicals such as lead and heavy metals, which can leach into the food, posing serious long-term health risks. The FSSAI is actively collaborating with state food authorities to enforce a ban on the use of newspapers for packaging or wrapping food items. Besides newspapers, there are many other food contact materials we encounter daily that can significantly influence our health. In this article, we will delve deeper into some of these materials, discuss how their usage can affect our health, and provide tips on safeguarding our health against their potential risks.

Richa Pande

What are Food Contact Materials?

Food contact materials encompass items directly or indirectly interacting with food. This includes any material intentionally or likely to come into contact with food, packaging materials, cleaning agents, cutlery, dishes, containers, cutting boards, and more. 

Watch Out for ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Your Food Packaging and Everyday Environment

“Forever chemicals” refer to a group of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), notorious for their long-lasting nature. These chemicals earned the nickname “forever chemicals” due to their remarkable durability. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS are utilized in nonstick cookware, disposable take-away food packaging, pizza boxes, burger wrappers, water-resistant clothing, stain-proof fabrics, microwave popcorns bags, some cosmetics and various other items designed to repel grease, water, and oil. Unfortunately, these chemicals have been associated with heightened risks of thyroid disease, cancer, liver diseases, decreased fertility, low birth weight, non-communicable diseases, and other significant health issues.

How can you avoid PFAs/ Forever Chemicals?

It is very difficult to avoid forever chemicals but there are some steps you can take to reduce exposure to PFAS via everyday products:

  • Reverse osmosis systems can eliminate PFAs in water. Replace filters as required.
  • Avoid using non-stick cookware and choose stainless steel utensils.
  • Avoid picking microwave popcorns. 
  • Store your food in glass containers not in plastic or cardboard containers. 
  • Limit eating foods packed in take-out containers.
  • Use BPI certified compostable food wraps as they do not have PFAs.

Reducing Plastic Contact with Food

Minimizing food’s contact with plastic is critical due to potential health risks associated with chemicals like BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates, as well as the presence of microplastics in food and water. However, it’s important to note that certain food-grade plastics deemed safe for use have undergone rigorous testing to meet specific safety standards. Nonetheless, continuous exposure to even food-grade plastics may carry risks, prompting a need to limit reliance on plastic in food storage and preparation.

Tips to Minimize Food’s Contact with Plastic

  • Prefer Alternatives: Prioritize materials like glass, stainless steel, or silicone for storing and heating food, minimizing reliance on even food-grade plastics. Storing kitchen staples in steel and glass containers provides a safer alternative to plastic. Opt for glass bottles to store cold-pressed cooking oils instead of plastic containers, as glass prevents potential chemical interactions with the oil, maintaining its quality and purity. Steel containers serve as excellent options for preserving grains, pulses, and spices, ensuring a safer and healthier environment for your kitchen essentials.
  • Choose Non-Plastic Chopping Boards: Use chopping boards made from wood, instead of plastic boards to avoid potential chemical leaching and microplastic contamination.
  • Verify Labels: Choose food storage containers specifically labelled as BPA-free or made from safer plastics like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) to reduce potential chemical leaching.
  • Use Plastic Sparingly: Whenever possible, opt for non-plastic alternatives such as glass jars, stainless steel containers, or silicone bags for storing and transporting food to mitigate exposure to any potential risks associated with prolonged plastic usage.
  • Avoid using plastic-based food blenders; opt for steel or glass-based blenders instead.

Plastic Chopping Boards

Wood Chopping Boards

Plastic Containers

Steel & Glass Containers

Dishwashing Liquids & Bars (Laced with chemicals)

Natural Alternatives

Refined Cooking oil in Plastic Pouches or Containers

Cold-pressed cooking oil in glass bottles

Easy Swaps for Better Health

 

Safeguarding Health and the Environment: Choose Chemical-Free Alternatives for Dishwashing

Common dishwashing liquids, promising effective grease removal and pleasant scents, often hide a range of active ingredients that pose risks to both your well-being and the environment. Ingredients like Disodium EDTA, phosphates, triclosan, and SLES are frequently found in these products. Even after a thorough cleaning, remnants of these liquids persist on our dishes, entering our bodies with every subsequent meal. This can potentially disrupt the gut microbiome, affecting our overall health and leading to various diseases and metabolic disorders.

What are the alternatives?

Consider opting for natural ingredient-based alternatives. Not only are these alternatives effective for cleaning, but they also reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. This eco-friendly approach to dishwashing ensures a safer and healthier environment for you and the planet.

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