Food packaging is aimed to protect foods from spoiling, keep our food safe, but can also be a source of harmful chemicals like synthetic chemicals contaminating our foods and this has raised concerns about potential harmful impacts.

Synthetic chemicals used in food packaging, storage, and processing might be harmful to human health over the long term according to environmental scientists warn. This is because most of the substances are not inert and can leach into the foods we eat.

Even though some of the synthetic chemicals are regulated, who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of the substances throughout their lives. And far too little is known about their long term impact.

Synthetic Chemical Food Packaging

This article aims at increasing awareness about the harmful effects of artificial preservatives and recommends the usage of natural preservatives for better therapeutic efficacy, safety and preservation of substances along with improved general health.

Chemicals in foods

All food is made up of chemical substances. The chemicals in food are largely harmless and often desirable – for example, nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fat and fibre are composed of chemical compounds. Many of these occur naturally and contribute both to a rounded diet and our eating experience.

The chemicals have a variety of toxicological properties, some of which might cause effects in humans and animals. Usually, these are not harmful unless we are exposed to them for a long time and at high levels.

Environmental scientists help to safeguard against these harmful effects by establishing safe levels. This scientific advice informs decision-makers who regulate the use of chemicals in food or seek to limit their presence in the food chain.

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Effects of Food Packaging on Human Health

Food packaging materials and containers such as bottles, cups and plates, used to improve food handling and transport, can contain synthetic chemical substances such as plastic, elements of which can migrate into food.

Other synthetic chemicals can be used to fight diseases in farm animals or crops, or can sometimes be found in food as a result of a production process such as heating/cooking or decontamination treatment.

Some plants and fungi naturally produce toxins that can contaminate crops and be a concern for human and animal health. People can also be exposed to both naturally occurring and man-made chemical compounds present at various levels in the environment, e.g. in soil, water and the atmosphere.

Impacts of Food Contact Chemicals on Human Health

Even though some of these synthetic chemicals are regulated, people who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives, say environmental scientists.

Far little is known about their long term impact, including at crucial stages of human development, such as in the womb, which is “surely not justified on scientific grounds,” the authors claim.

Environmental scientists point out that lifelong exposure to food contact materials substances used in packaging, storage, processing, or preparation equipment — “is a cause for concern for several reasons.”

Synthetic Chemical Food Packaging

These include the fact that known toxicants, such as formaldehyde, cancer-causing substance, are legally used in these materials. Formaldehyde is widely present, albeit at low levels, in plastic bottles used for fizzy drinks and melamine tableware.

Other synthetic chemicals are known to disrupt hormone production also crop up in FCMs, including bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates. Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policymakers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,” the authors point out.

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Harmful Effects of Synthetic Chemicals in Foods

The number of studies linking synthetic chemical contamination of foodstuffs to human health problems is increasing, we know very little about how synthetic chemicals affect bodily functions or promote , or at what life stage(s) we are susceptible

The majority of preservatives used today are artificial rather than natural. Several of them are toxic and several others have potentially life-threatening side effects. Researchers have reported that artificial preservatives such as nitrates, benzoates, sulfites, sorbates, parabens, formaldehyde, BHT, BHA and several others can cause serious health hazards such as

  • Hypersensitivity
  • Allergy
  • Asthma
  • Hyperactivity
  • Neurological damage
  • Cancer

Research has proven that several natural preservatives obtained from plants, animals, microbes and minerals contain Anti Oxidant, Anti Microbial and Anti Enzymatic properties. Extracts of basil, clove, neem and rosemary are promising alternatives to their artificial counterparts.

Synthetic Chemical Food Packaging

On another angle, the use of synthetic chemical food packs pose very huge health challenges in society and most people are not aware. Scientific studies have shown that these food packs leach synthetic chemicals into consumable items especially at high temperatures making such foods carcinogenic and poisonous for human consumption.

The synthetic chemical present in the food pack is a colourless oily liquid that leaches when eating foods packed in a takeaway food container which has been linked to

  • Cancer
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Nervous system effects, the list goes on

It could also lead to

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea as an immediate side effect

Environmental health experts have also stressed that If people drink beverages from Polystyrene or Styrofoam cups 4 times a day for 3 years, the person may have consumed about one foam cup’s worth of styrene along with the beverages. Styrene short term levels of exposure can cause eye, nose and throat irritation while the long term levels of exposure can cause dizziness.

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How to Prevent Food Contamination

With the increase in the number of food joints and restaurants gradual decrease in several environmental health workers, it is imperative that the citizenry act as the layer of health workers to stop any form of human and environmental hazards.

You need to remember that you can never be wrong with a Biodegradable plastic cup or plate if in doubt at any point in time.

6 tips to adopt to curtail the use of Styrofoam cups

  • Use plastic plates or cups, mugs and glass cups
  • Insist on being served with glass cups, plates when you go to food spots
  • Styrofoam cups: Be aware of the harmful effects of using polystyrene
  • products and tell others.
  • Use reusable cups at work instead of foam cups.
  • When shopping for groceries, select items that are unwrapped, or wrapped in non-polystyrene materials: (e.g. vegetables, eggs, meat)
  • Ask local takeaway restaurants and food suppliers to use a more environmentally friendly form of food packaging other than

Toxicology studies generally do not reflect typical human exposure, which is particularly concerning because some synthetic chemicals like Formaldehyde and Carcinogen are more toxic at lower concentrations.

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