FDA allows use of phthalates to continue in food packaging

Photo (c) Seth Joel Photography - Getty Images

Advocates say the chemicals are toxic and a danger to consumers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided against imposing a total ban on a group of potentially dangerous chemicals called phthalates, which are commonly found in fast-food packaging and other food handling products like plastic gloves. The decision did not sit well with environmental organizations and scientists who have been trying to get the chemicals removed for years.

The FDA’s decision was in response to three petitions. One specifically requested that the FDA limit the use of 28 phthalates.

The packaging aspect may be of particular concern because some fast-food chains preform and partially cook their products for local stores, which prepare the foods when the items are eventually ordered. That leaves the food sitting in plastic packaging for an extended period of time. 

“FDA’s failure to ban phthalates in food packaging and processing is outrageous. We have known for a long time the impact these chemicals can have on pregnant women and children, and they disproportionately impact people of color,” Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future, told ConsumerAffairs. “Stopping the use of the most dangerous chemicals is the only way to prevent unnecessary harm and disease.”

The FDA said it is aware of concerns raised about the possible health effects of exposure to high levels of phthalates. However, at least for now, the agency said it is not aware of evidence that the dietary exposure to phthalates resulting from their use as food contact substances poses a safety risk.  

On the positive side

Although the FDA isn't acting right now, it doesn’t seem to be slamming the door on the issue either. In its announcement, the agency said it will continue to seek data about phthalate use and safety in food contact applications.

“The FDA is generally aware of updated toxicological and use information on phthalates that is publicly available. Nevertheless, stakeholders may have access to information that is not always made public,” the agency said.

The FDA is seeking scientific data and information on the specific current food contact uses, use levels, dietary exposure, and safety data for the remaining eight phthalates that are still authorized for use as plasticizers in food contact applications.

"We may use this information to update the dietary exposure estimates and safety assessments for the permitted food contact uses of phthalates,” FDA officials stated.

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