ACC's Response to 'The Plastic Chemicals Hiding in Your Food' Article

The American Chemistry Council’s High Phthalates Panel responded to recent articles detailing misleading claims regarding food contact materials and phthalates.

Kristen Kazarian, Managing Editor

January 23, 2024

4 Min Read
ACC comments on Consumer Reports article
ACC comments on Consumer Reports article about phthalates and bisphenols hiding in foods.Image courtesy of Dhaqi Ibrohim / iStock via Getty Images

The article "The Plastic Chemicals Hiding in Your Food" by Consumer Reports stated that CR tested 85 popular fast foods and supermarket staples, looking primarily for phthalates and bisphenols such as BPA. CR found them in almost every food that was tested, the article stated.

The American Chemistry Council’s High Phthalates Panel issued a statement in response to this and other recent articles detailing misleading claims regarding food contact materials and phthalates.

“The recent Consumer Reports’ article titled ‘The Plastic Chemicals Hiding in Your Food’ is misleading and inappropriately groups together different phthalates — DINP, for example — as a single class of chemicals used in food packaging. The conclusions of the article are at odds with over 50 years of research on individual phthalates — including DINP — and the article’s conclusions risk creating unnecessary public alarm about our nation’s food safety. During the 30 or so years that plasticized PVC food packaging films have been available, they have become a major contributor to food safety, protecting meat and dairy products from contamination and premature spoilage.

“Not all phthalates are the same, and it is not appropriate to group them as a class. The term ‘phthalates’ simply refers to a family of chemicals that happen to be structurally similar, but which are functionally and toxicologically distinct from each other. This distinction is critical yet often missed in news outlets that cover these complex and extensive chemical families. It is critical to take into account the significant differences among compounds that are part of a chemical family. Not making this distinction and only broadly using the term ‘phthalate,’ misleads the public to believe all phthalates are alleged to be harmful to human health. The Consumer Reports article neglects to make this critical distinction. Two commonly used kinds of phthalates, DINP and DIDP, for example, are two of the most thoroughly studied compounds in the world and have been reviewed by numerous government regulatory authorities in existing food contact uses.

“Importantly, the Consumer Reports article highlights that, ‘none of the foods CR [Consumer Reports] tested had amounts exceeding’ regulatory limits set by the US and Europe. The US has a robust federal regulatory system in place for managing food safety, including chemical safety, and it is for this reason that the US is consistently ranked as having one of the highest-ranked food safety systems in the world.

“The article also incorrectly claims that plasticizers can easily leach out of plastic. The way phthalates plasticizers are bound into the material in which they are added, they do not easily migrate out of the product or evaporate. Government regulatory authorities such as The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other food agencies worldwide, regulate food packaging materials to strict safety standards. In fact, government regulatory authorities support the safety of phthalates such as DINP and DIDP in all existing food contact uses.

There have been no studies to date which show any connection between human dietary exposure to phthalates and adverse health effects, according to a 2018 FDA report. And in May 2022, after years of analysis, FDA added that it did ‘not have a basis to conclude that dietary levels from approved ortho-phthalates exceed a safe level.’

International food safety agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority concluded in a 2019 update that the aggregated dietary exposure for DBP, BBP, DEHP, and DINP was estimated to contribute at most 23% of the group‐tolerable daily intake in the worst‐case scenario.

The Food Standards Agency UK, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Health Canada, and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand have also concluded that exposures to phthalates is of negligible concern to the public.

When establishing safety limits for food contact uses, regulatory authorities apply safety factors. These safety factors are like leaving early on your morning commute to account for traffic; the safety factors used by regulatory authorities like FDA help ensure that any migration from packaging materials does not exceed a safe level.

“The Consumer Report article representation of phthalates in food products also lacks necessary context about the test results and can be easily misinterpreted by readers. The measurement units provided within the report — nanograms — are hundreds or thousands of times below levels of concern established by regulatory authorities. For example, the article claims there are 6,167 nanograms of total phthalates per serving in a can of Coca-Cola. To provide some context, 1 ng per liter is equivalent to 1 part per trillion. And in the context of food safety a 150-lb adult would need to consume 469 servings of Coca-Cola every day to exceed the European Food Safety Authority tolerable daily intake for the most commonly identified phthalate in food, as listed by the report.

About the Author(s)

Kristen Kazarian

Managing Editor

Kristen Kazarian has been a writer and editor for more than three decades. She has worked at several consumer magazines and B2B publications in the fields of food and beverage, packaging, processing, women's interest, local news, health and nutrition, fashion and beauty, automotive, and computers.

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