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Correcting misunderstandings of food additives and child health

The technical report published by Trasande et al., has suggested that phthalates may be present in the diet and could have potentially adverse effects on children’s health. To prevent misunderstandings that could arise from this report, it is important that we highlight the following:

People typically are not exposed to phthalates through microwaveable plastics – Plasticizers, including phthalates, are not used in rigid vinyl products identified by recycling code 3. Only flexible packaging contains plasticizers, and the US FDA recently published an article that confirmed that most food packaging is now made with alternative plasticizers(1).  General purpose plasticizers like DINP are only cleared for a narrow range of food contact applications, specifically at temperatures not exceeding room temperature. Hence, this type of plasticizer is unlikely to be present in a microwaveable food contact article.

All phthalates are not the same – The common misconception is that all phthalates are toxicologically equivalent. However this is not the case. Trasande et al. note that DINP and DIDP “have not been banned or restricted by regulatory agencies.”  This is with good reason.  DINP/DIDP are two of the most studied phthalates and have been evaluated by multiple regulatory agencies over the past 20 years. These include at least three regulatory determinations by the European Union (EU) that have included risk evaluations for children or adults exposed via food(2). No exposure risks were found. The UK COT, an independent advisory body to the UK Food Standards Agency(3), New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)(4) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)(5) also announced results of evaluations of dietary exposure risk to phthalates, including DINP and DIDP, in consumers. All three bodies independently found no safety concern to the general public, similar to the conclusion reached by the EU. All these studies, and more, are not cited in the technical report by Trasande et al., and directly contradict the hypothesis in the report that phthalates, such as DINP and DIDP, are a dietary concern to children.

DINP and DIDP have been determined to be safe in all current applications – In attributing DINP/DIDP exposure to several health effects (e.g. insulin resistance), Trasande et al., cited their own published articles. However, these studies do not provide any evidence for direct causation and also caution that “causation cannot be inferred from a cross-sectional study”. High molecular weight phthalates have been used safely in consumer and commercial applications for more than 50 years, ranging from use in building and construction, automotive and many other applications. They are among the most studied chemicals in commerce today and have been rigorously evaluated by regulatory agencies around the world. These agencies continue to affirm that DINP and DIDP are safe in all current applications and do not pose a dietary concern to the general public via exposure in food packaging.

Read the full open letter to the editor here.

References

1              Carlos, K.S., L.S. de Jager, and T.H. Begley: Investigation of the primary plasticisers present in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products currently authorised as food contact materials. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess 35(6): 1214-1222 (2018).

2              European Chemicals Agency: “Evaluation of new scientific evidence concerning DINP and DIDP in relation to entry 52 of Annex XVII to REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006”. Helsinki, Finland: European Chemicals Agency, 2013.

3              Committee on Toxicity: “COT Statement on Dietary Exposure to Phthalates – Data from the Total Diet Study (TDS)”: Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, 2011.

4              Pearson, A., and J. van den Beuken: “Occurrence and risk characterisation of migration of packaging chemicals in New Zealand foods”. In MPI Technical Paper No: 2017/61. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2017.

5              Food Standards Australia New Zealand: “Survey of Plasticisers in Australian Foods: An Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation Coordinated Survey”: Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 2018.

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