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Food Safety Focus (55th Issue, February 2011) – Food Safety Platform

Bisphenol A (BPA) and Food Contact Materials

Reported by Ms. Melva CHEN, Scientific Officer
Risk Assessment Section, Centre for Food Safety

When you go shopping for baby bottles or reusable water bottles, you may see a "BPA-free" label on some of these products. Have you ever wondered what BPA is or worried about the safety of products that do contain BPA? This article will tell you more about this chemical.

Food Contact Materials

BPA is used in food contact materials, which in general refer to any articles intended to come into contact with food. They may include packaging materials, kitchen utensils, tableware, etc. Any material when comes into contact with food, its constituents may migrate into the food. Whether it may pose a health risk depends on the nature and the amount of the substances migrated. Therefore, only approved materials can be used for food contact. Manufacturers have to ensure that their food contact materials will not transfer any substance in an amount that causes food safety problems under the intended conditions of use.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to make a hard plastic, polycarbonate (PC), and epoxy resins. PC is found in a wide range of products, from thermal papers used for receipts to food containers such as baby bottles. Epoxy resins are used as a protective lining in metal-based food and beverage cans.

BPA is commonly used to make epoxy resins in food can linings (A) and polycarbonate baby bottles (B)
BPA is commonly used to make epoxy resins in food can linings (A) and polycarbonate baby bottles (B)

What are the Health Effects of BPA?

BPA has been used in food contact materials for more than 40 years with no known risk to human health as a result from this application. Available data from local and overseas showed the migration levels of BPA from PC baby bottles were either very low or not detectable. BPA has low acute toxicity and does not cause cancer. Some recent studies in experimental animals suggested that low levels of BPA may have adverse effects on nervous system, behaviour during the developmental period and on reproductive system while other studies indicated no effect. According to risk assessments by food safety authorities in Europe, USA, Canada, and Australia, the current dietary exposures to BPA are well below the safety reference dose and are not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants.

International Perspectives

An international panel of experts established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations assessed the safety of BPA in November 2010. The meeting concluded that initiation of public health measures would be premature based on current knowledge of BPA. Nevertheless, some countries such as Canada have taken precautionary measures to ban BPA in baby bottles and the European Union will adopt similar measures. However, no country has banned the use of BPA in food containers (other than those intended for infants and young children use) and food cans.

Local Situation

The CFS sought the advice of the Expert Committee on Food Safety (Expert Committee) on the BPA issue in January 2011. The Expert Committee's views concurred with those of the experts of WHO/FAO that initiation of public health measures would be premature based on current knowledge of BPA. The CFS's action to closely monitor the international development on latest risk assessment work is considered appropriate. Meanwhile, CFS will advise the public on the proper use of plastic food contact materials and keep trade members informed of the latest information on BPA control of overseas countries.

Advice to Public

  1. Follow manufacturer's instructions when using food containers. Do not put boiling water or very hot liquid into any plastic baby bottles. (Please refer to Risk in Brief for detailed advice on safe use of plastic baby bottles.)
  2. For canned foods, remove food from the can before heating the food. Do not re-use empty can to cook food. Leftover food should be placed in a sealable container that can be stored in the fridge or freezer.

Advice to Trade

  1. CFS supports the industry's actions to stop producing and selling BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups and make efforts to replace BPA or minimise BPA levels in food can lining.
  2. Manufacturers of food containers should provide instructions for the intended use of the product including temperature specifications and restrictions on use.