Plasticisers in food

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Plasticisers (Q. 1.1-1.11)Plasticisers and Food Safety (Q. 2.1-2.6)Plasticisers and Health Concern (Q. 3.1-3.10)Surveillance and Control Measures (Q. 4.1-4.8)

Plasticisers and Food Safety

2.1) What are the possible food safety concerns of plasticisers?
With respect to health effects, phthalates are often classified as endocrine disrupters because of their ability to interfere with the endocrine system in the body. Exposure to large doses of phthalates has been reported to result in increased incidence of developmental abnormalities such as cleft palate and skeletal malformations, and increased fetal death in experimental animal studies. Animal studies showed that the most sensitive system is the immature male reproductive tract, with phthalate exposure resulting in increased incidence of undescended testes, decreased testes weight and decreased anogenital distance (distance between the anus and the base of the penis).

2.2) What is a clouding agent?
Clouding agent is a kind of emulsifier, an additive, which forms or maintains a uniform emulsion of two or more phases in a food. It is usually added to fruit juice or fruit beverage to increase turbidity and provide a natural appearance.

2.3) Can phthalate plasticisers (e.g. DEHP and DINP) be used in clouding agents?
No, phthalate plasticisers cannot be used as food additives and not allowed to be added into food. According to Taiwan Food and Drug Administration, there were manufacturers used phthalate plasticisers in place of other food additives to formulate clouding agents in an attempt to reduce cost and increase stability of the product.

2.4) Can we know from food labels whether clouding agents are added to food?
Clouding agents are food additives usually made of gum arabic, emulsifier, palm oil and a range of food additives. The Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations stipulate that any prepackaged food containing an additive should list its specific name or identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives and its functional class on a food label. However, some clouding agents may be used to prepare flavourings (spices) and the Regulations require food containing flavourings to list their classes only. Members of the public who wish to know whether clouding agents are added to food may check with the manufacturers.

2.5) Will plasticisers migrate from food containers to food?
When food contact materials such as PVC come into contact with food, the plasticisers may migrate into foodstuff. The level of migration depends on the chemical compositions of the food contact materials, the types of food, and the contact time and temperature. In general, higher levels of phthalate plasticisers will be migrated into fatty foods than non-fatty foods. Migration also increases with contact time and temperature. Therefore, phthalates should not be used in food packaging materials or containers intended to contact fatty food or food for infant and young children.

2.6) Do food containers and packagings contain phthlates ?
The common food contact materials such as some cling films of polyethylene (PE) or other polyolefins and bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are somewhat flexible and do not require to add phthalate plasticisers.