FSANZ finds Phthalate chemicals at higher than recommended levels in food
A leading Queensland scientist has warned the public to be cautious after a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) study found two chemicals at higher than recommended levels in samples of plastic food packages.
The two chemicals, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP) were detected as part of FSANZ’s Australian Total Diet Study into chemicals in food packaging. FSANZ said it detected “very low residues of some chemicals in a small number of samples” and that “After undertaking a very conservative safety assessment on these very low levels, FSANZ has concluded there are no safety concerns.”
However, FSANZ also conceded that “The screening study identified that further work was required for two of the chemicals tested for (phthalates) and FSANZ will be sampling a wider range of foods for these chemicals so a full dietary exposure assessment can be undertaken.”
Results potentially concerning: phthalate researcher
Dr Catherine Itman, who is currently investigating the effects of phthalate chemicals on male health at the University of the Sunshine Coast, has responded to the study stating that the results are “potentially concerning.”
“The results released by FSANZ are potentially concerning in regard to food-related exposure to phthalate chemicals, as animal studies have demonstrated that phthalate exposure causes adverse effects on development and health, and human biomonitoring studies are continuing to link phthalates to health conditions. However, we must recognize firstly that we are exposed to phthalates from many different sources, so it must be considered whether the phthalates present in some foods do substantially contribute to our overall phthalate exposure,” said Dr Itman.
“Secondly, we actually have very little direct information about the human health impacts of phthalates, as most toxicology studies have been performed using concentrations that do not reflect typical exposure levels and our knowledge of the effects of exposure to combinations of phthalates or phthalates plus other chemicals is wholly inadequate. Therefore, until more studies are done, it would be wise to be cautious,” Itman continued.
“We need to ask whether the FSANZ ‘watching brief’ is sufficient, and what the proposed future monitoring and surveillance entails. As new discoveries on human health impacts of phthalates are published, these findings must then be balanced with the obvious benefits that chemical use in the food industry provide – the convenience of large-scale production, packaging and storage of food that we all take for granted,” said Itman.
“If phthalates are phased out and alternatives adopted, there must be adequate safety testing to minimize the risk of introducing a phthalate replacement that is greater cause for concern,” Itman concluded.
In response to Dr Itman’s concerns, FSANZ has reiterated that it is currently preparing a further survey of phthalates in food (for those phthalates that were identified as a concern) and is continuing to monitor and review international research in this area (for all phthalates).
Risks are low
Entering the debate Dr Ian Musgrave, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, pointed out that the phthalate levels found were low.
“Two phthalates, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP), were found at higher that recommended levels in a very few foods, and further studies will be undertaken as well as consultation with industry to ensure reduced levels. Even so, the risks identified were low. In the case of DINP, out of 48 foods tested, high levels were found in a single sample of peanut butter, one hamburger and one pizza. You would need to consume 200g of that peanut butter or 0.6 Kg of that pizza daily to exceed the tolerable daily intake level,” said Musgrave.
“Overall the study again confirms that our foods are generally safe, and we do very well by international standards,” Musgrave concluded.