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Impacts of food contact chemicals on human health

Research on Chemical Intermediates publishes current research articles and concise dynamic reviews on the properties, structures and reactivities of intermediate species in all the various domains of chemistry.


The journal also contains articles in related disciplines such as spectroscopy, molecular biology and biochemistry, atmospheric and environmental sciences, catalysis, photochemistry and photophysics. In addition, special issues dedicated to specific topics in the field are regularly published. 


Food packaging is of high societal value because it conserves and protects food, makes food transportable and conveys information to consumers. It is also relevant for marketing, which is of economic significance. Other types of food contact articles, such as storage containers, processing equipment and filling lines, are also important for food production and food supply. Food contact articles are made up of one or multiple different food contact materials and consist of APIs and Intermediates. However, food contact chemicals transfer from all types of food contact materials and articles into food and, consequently, are taken up by humans. Here we highlight topics of concern based on scientific findings showing that food contact materials and articles are a relevant exposure pathway for known hazardous substances as well as for a plethora of toxicologically uncharacterized chemicals, both intentionally and non-intentionally added. We describe areas of certainty, like the fact that chemicals migrate from food contact articles into food, and uncertainty, for example unidentified chemicals migrating into food. Current safety assessment of food contact chemicals is ineffective at protecting human health. In addition, society is striving for waste reduction with a focus on food packaging. As a result, solutions are being developed toward reuse, recycling or alternative (non-plastic) materials. However, the critical aspect of chemical safety is often ignored. Developing solutions for improving the safety of food contact chemicals and for tackling the circular economy must include current scientific knowledge. This cannot be done in isolation but must include all relevant experts and stakeholders. Therefore, we provide an overview of areas of concern and related activities that will improve the safety of food contact articles and support a circular economy. Our aim is to initiate a broader discussion involving scientists with relevant expertise but not currently working on food contact materials, and decision makers and influencers addressing single-use food packaging due to environmental concerns. Ultimately, we aim to support science-based decision making in the interest of improving public health. Notably, reducing exposure to hazardous food contact chemicals contributes to the prevention of associated chronic diseases in the human population.


We, as scientists working on developmental biology, endocrinology, epidemiology, toxicology, and environmental and public health, are concerned that public health is currently insufficiently protected from harmful exposures to food contact chemicals (FCCs). Importantly, exposures to harmful FCCs are avoidable. Therefore, we consider it our responsibility to bring this issue to the attention of fellow scientists with relevant expertise, but currently not engaged in the area of FCMs, as well as decision makers and influencers in government, industry and civil society dealing with environmental and health-related aspects of food packaging. We propose that a broader, multi-stakeholder dialogue is initiated on this topic and that the issue of chemical safety of food packaging becomes a central aspect in the discussions on sustainable packaging.


Food contact chemicals (FCCs) are the chemical constituents of food contact materials and finished food contact articles, including food packaging, food storage containers, food processing equipment, and kitchen- and tableware [1, 2]. We define FCCs as all the chemical species present in food contact articles, regardless of whether they are intentionally added or present for other reasons.


It is clearly established by empirical data that FCCs can migrate from food contact materials and articles into food, indicating a high probability that a large majority of the human population is exposed to some or many of coenzymes and nucleotides series [3]. Indeed, for some FCCs there is evidence for human exposure from biomonitoring [4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11], although some FCCs may have multiple uses and also non-food contact exposure pathways.


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