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Food-Contact Chemicals Database Implications Questioned

January 13, 2021

Food Packaging Forum (FPF) launched a new food-contact chemical database that lists 12,285 chemicals that are potentially used in the manufacture of food-contact materials. The list was developed from 67 regulatory positive lists and industry inventories. The researchers, led by FPF, noted that toxicity data are available for 71% of the food-contact chemicals. They also identified 608 of the chemicals as possible high-priority candidates for substitution in food-contact materials. (An article on the database was published in the journal Environment International.)  The new database is an extension of previous work by the authors in 2018 on a database of compounds associated specifically with plastic packaging.

The journal article announcing this new database of substances used in different types of food-contact materials does not discuss that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and most public health agencies use sophisticated assessment techniques to determine health and safety risks that could potentially be presented by a component of a food-contact material. These assessments are typically based on an understanding of the hazards presented by the substances and the level of exposure that may occur from particular uses.

The compilation of such an assessment involves complex analysis and expert judgment on the part of public health officials. It is difficult to present conclusions of this sort and the judgments that went into them in the form of a spreadsheet. Thus, while there may be some useful information in this database, to reach conclusions on matters of health and safety as related to the substances included is difficult to achieve without a full understanding of the assessments underlying the health agencies’ conclusions and the final determinations of public officials who undertake these tasks.