CHOICE call for Australian food regulator to set chemical limits

Posted by James Ferre on 23rd June 2008

CHOICE tests on 25 everyday foods packaged in glass jars have found 13 were contaminated with controversial plastic softening chemicals at levels that exceed the safety limits set by the European Union (EU).

The tests revealed a pesto sauce which contained plasticisers at levels more than twelve times that permitted in the EU, and one tandoori dip at 230 times over the standard. Australian food regulators do not set limits for these chemicals.

One food manufacturer in Australia has now initiated a precautionary withdrawal of two products pending further investigations. Others have reportedly queried their suppliers and requested directions from the food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The most frequently used plasticisers for screw-capped jars and bottles are epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) and a number of different phthalates. The EU guidelines for ESBO are 60 parts per million for food and half that for baby food.

CHOICE found nine of the 25 foods contained ESBO at levels well above the EU limit. One, a pesto sauce with 26% fat, contained 840 ppm.

The EU limit for the different phthalates varies between 1.5 ppm and 9 ppm. Twelve – almost half – of the foods contained these chemicals at higher levels, with one Indian-made tandoori dip containing 230 times the amount permitted in Europe.

CHOICE wants the food regulators to follow the EU lead and provide consumers with better protection. “We want to see the food industry find safe alternatives to these potentially unsafe chemicals,” CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn said. “We’d also like FSANZ to set limits for plasticisers in the Food Standards Code.”

Limited exposure to phthalates has not been found to be harmful to health but restrictions have been set due to concerns that consistent high level exposure could cause cancer.