Frequently Asked Questions
What are food contact materials?
Food contact materials and products are items that come into contact with our food, such as storage containers, factory equipment, kitchen utensils, and food packaging.
The term “food contact material” describes any of these items, but there are some more specific terms that are helpful to understand.
Food contact articles: the actual items that contain or wrap our food (for example, a yogurt cup or juice bottle).
Food contact chemical: the chemicals that make up a food contact material. Examples include monomers (like Bisphenol A), additives (such as phthalates), or fillers (like titanium dioxide).
How are food contact materials regulated in the EU?
Current EU legislation is outdated and does not sufficiently protect the health of citizens from harmful chemicals.
EU law requires that food contact materials ‘do not transfer their constituents to food in quantities which could endanger human health’. But beyond this general safety requirement, most food contact materials are not covered by specific EU regulations. A handful of materials (such as plastics and ceramics) have specific regulations – though there are still concerns that these materials can contain hazardous chemicals. The result is a system of different rules in different EU states, where levels of protection from harmful chemicals are dependent on where you live.
Fortunately, a revision of EU legislation on food contact materials is underway. Our campaign focuses on ensuring that this revision leads to regulations that properly protect people and the wider environment from hazardous chemicals in FCMs. Sign up to our newsletter to receive actions and information.
What should the EU be doing to protect us against harmful chemicals in food contact materials?
The EU must ensure that all food packaging is safe — for use, reuse, and recycling.
Notably, regulations on FCMs must:
- Phase-out hazardous chemicals from food packaging
- Establish strong risk assessment protocols for all FCMs, using the most protective methods
- Require assessment of health hazards posed by exposure to mixtures of chemicals and cumulative exposures from food packaging as well as other sources, such as cosmetics, pesticides, textiles, and more
- Require food packaging manufacturers to fully identify, disclose, and label chemicals used in their products along the supply chain
- Ensure integration of recycled content in FCMs does not threaten public health
- Support the transition towards reusable and safe packaging
How can I avoid harmful chemicals in food packaging?
While we campaign for more protective legislation, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals from food packaging. The best way to avoid harmful chemicals in food packaging is to avoid food packaging in general, wherever possible.
For example, you can avoid or reduce use of: plastic bottles and plastic food wrappers, take-away and fast-food containers, packaging with greaseproof lining, and canned foods.
If accessible to you, buy fresh fruits and vegetables using your own reusable bags or containers. You may also be able to find foods like bread, pulses, pasta, rice, beans and nuts from bulk stores where you can refill your own containers.
Reusable plastic bottles and food containers can also leach harmful chemicals, so opt for reusable bottles made of stainless steel, and food containers made of glass or stainless steel instead.
Reusable coffee cups and other reusable items are a popular way to reduce your use of single-use plastics. However, studies have found that some of these reusable products can also contain harmful chemicals. For example, some so-called “bamboo” coffee cups have been found to release a substance called melamine into hot drinks. Melamine has been linked to damage to the kidneys. Some reusable cups may also contain harmful chemicals if they are made of recycled plastics. Alternatives are stainless steel or glass cups, or sitting in a café and using a ceramic cup.
How can I avoid harmful chemicals when cooking food?
Some cooking equipment can expose us to harmful chemicals.
Many foods are sold with instructions to cook the contents in its packaging. Microwaveable rice is one example. But the packaging may contain harmful chemicals that can leach into food and drink – especially when cooking at higher temperatures in microwaves. If you are buying or reheating food in plastic packaging, transfer it to heat-resistant glass or ceramic containers. Alternatively, skip the microwave and use a pan on a hob instead.
Many types of non-stick pans contain harmful PFAS. If the pans are overheated or chipped, harmful chemicals can leach from the coating into your food. Choose stainless steel or ceramic pans instead when replacing your damaged pans. Beware “PFOS/PFOA-free” product labels in favour of the broader, more protective “PFAS-free” label. For cooking in the oven, ceramic or glass are good options. If you have to use non-stick pans, take care not to scratch or burn the surface.
Hazardous chemicals, such as flame retardants used in black plastic electronic devices, have been found in black plastic cooking utensils as a result of recycling. To limit your potential exposure to these chemicals, avoid these utensils in favour of those made of stainless steel.
Food Contact Materials – materials and products that come into contact with our food, such as storage containers, factory equipment, kitchen utensils, and food packaging.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – chemicals that affect hormones and their role in how the body develops and functions.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
European Chemicals Agency
European Food Safety Authority
Non Intentionally Added Substances – substances that are present in food contact materials but have not been intentionally added, and are by-products and impurities from the production process.