SWITZERLAND – A comprehensive literature review conducted by scientists from the University of Basel and other institutions has shed light on the knowledge gaps regarding the migration of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) oligomers from food contact materials (FCMs) into foods. 

The study revealed inadequate risk assessment for these chemicals and emphasized the need for more systematic and tiered approaches to address the identified research needs.

It aimed to identify and organize existing hazard and exposure data on 34 PET oligomers. Using the Food Packaging Forum’s database on Migrating and Extractable Food Contact Chemicals (FCCmigex), the researchers categorized published information into different evidence categories to comprehensively document the available data.

Analysis of the FCCmigex data, which is based on over 800 scientific publications on plastic FCMs, indicated that 74% of the 34 PET oligomers were prone to migrate.

Among the migrating chemicals, only 38 had in silico toxicological predictions, and safety testing in vitro had been conducted for just one oligomer.

While the available safety testing data did not raise major concerns, they were significantly limited in scope and did not cover most health endpoints.

Moreover, the findings challenged the assumption that PET oligomers are fully hydrolyzed, which has previously been used to justify assessing the risks associated with respective monomers.

This highlights the importance of addressing the research needs and developing more comprehensive approaches to risk assessment for PET oligomers.

The researchers emphasized the significance of adopting systematic and tiered approaches to fill the knowledge gaps identified in the study. Such approaches would help in assessing the risks associated with PET oligomers and enable a more thorough understanding of their potential impacts on human health.

The study’s findings have implications for the food packaging industry, regulators, and researchers involved in assessing the safety of FCMs.

The identification of knowledge gaps underscores the need for further research and data collection to support evidence-based risk assessment and decision-making processes.

Increased scrutiny on food contact materials

The study’s findings add to the growing body of research that highlights the need for enhanced scrutiny and regulation of food contact materials.

Regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders are increasingly focusing on evaluating the safety of FCMs to ensure consumer protection and mitigate potential health risks associated with chemical migration into food.

Moving forward, collaborations between scientists, regulatory agencies, and industry experts will play a vital role in addressing knowledge gaps, advancing risk assessment methodologies, and promoting the development of safer food packaging materials.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently issued a warning to businesses, urging them to refrain from selling plastic food contact materials (FCMs) that incorporate bamboo and other plant-based materials.

Highlighting the lack of safety assessment and authorization under retained (EU) Regulation 10/2011, the FSA has initiated a call for evidence to evaluate the safety and stability of these materials.

Bamboos and other plant-based materials, such as rice husks, hemp, and wheat straw, have not undergone comprehensive safety assessments in plastic FCMs.

Consequently, the FSA prohibits the sale of these products until they have been thoroughly evaluated and authorized.

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