PVC Products And Food Safety

Plasticisers are Used Primarily in Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Products. Since the emergence of the plasticiser-tainted food incident, many people worried about the migration of plasticisers from plastic materials into food and the associated health risk. In fact, plasticisers are substances mainly used in hard plastics to improve their flexibility and durability. PVC is the most common hard plastic material that uses plasticisers. Therefore, food containers, commercial cling films, gaskets used to seal the metal lids of glass jars, conveyer belts, gloves, made of PVC as well as adhesives and printing ink on food packaging contain plasticisers.

The industry has been using many types of plasticisers including phthalates, adipates, epoxy esters and citrates. Of these, phthalates such as DEHP and DBP have received the most regulatory and scientific attention due to their toxicity on reproduction and development in experimental animals.

What Affects Migration of Plasticisers into Food

When PVC food contact materials are properly manufactured and used, the plasticisers contained in the materials are not expected to migrate excessively into foodstuffs. However, as plasticisers are oil-soluble, plastics containing plasticisers, especially phthalates (i.e. in the case of PVC products) should not be used in food contact materials for holding fatty foods. Local and overseas data showed that some fatty foods such as edible oils, oil-based sauces and cheese were detected with low levels of phthalates, possibly related to environmental contamination or inappropriate use of food contact materials. Migration of plasticisers also increases with temperature and contact time. Plastics containing phthalates plasticisers should not be used in food contact materials intended for foods for infants and children under three years old as they are more susceptible to the toxicity of phthalates. On the whole, manufacturers of food contact materials have the responsibility to conduct prior use tests on their products to ensure that they are safe under the intended conditions of use.

Points to Note:

1. Plasticisers are used primarily in PVC products.

2. Migration of plasticisers from PVC materials increases when in contact with fatty or hot foods.

3. Exposure to low level of plasticisers is unavoidable due to their widespread presence as environmental contaminants but can be reduced with proper use of food contact materials.

Reducing Exposure to Plasticisers from Food

Plasticisers are widely used industrial chemicals. Due to their widespread presence as environmental contaminants, exposure to low levels of plasticisers through food, water or skin contact with plastics is unavoidable. Our bodies can effectively metabolise and excrete plasticisers such as phthalates. Exposure to low levels of phthalates is unlikely to pose a health risk. We can take the following measures to reduce our exposures to phthalates.

Advice to Consumers

1. Follow manufacturer's instructions especially on the temperature specifications and microwave and dishwasher instructions when using plastic food containers.

2. Do not use PVC or unidentifi ed plastic containers to hold fatty foods or hot foods. Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers instead.

3. When using or reusing glass jar, make sure the fatty foods do not come into contact with the gasket of the lid.

Advice to the Trade

1. Manufacturers of food contact materials should provide product information and instructions on use.

2. Food trade should observe good manufacturing and food safety practice. Ensure food products comply with local regulations.

3. Avoid using phthalate-containing food contact materials, especially for fatty foods and food intended for infants and young children.


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