Expert Commentary

Food packaging, diet and BPA chemical exposure

2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives on chemicals in food packaging and their possible role in endocrine disruption.

Scientific studies have suggested that two chemicals used in food packaging, Bisphenol A (BPA) and Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), can disrupt human endocrine systems and cause birth defects, autism and hyperactivity. While the adverse effects of BPA have been studied, the contribution of dietary exposure to total intake has not been fully investigated.

A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention,” sought to measure the pattern of these chemicals as related to types of food consumed. The researchers selected 20 participants based on their self-reported use of canned and packaged foods. Participants ate their usual diets, followed by three days of consuming foods that were not canned or packaged.

The study’s findings include:

  • Evidence of BPA and DEHP in participants’ urine decreased by 50% to 70% during the period of eating fresh foods.
  • Participants’ reports of their food practices suggested that consumption of canned foods and beverages and restaurant meals were the most likely sources of exposure to the two chemicals in their usual diets.
  • Even beyond these 20 participants, BPA and DEHP exposure is widespread, with detectable levels in urine samples in more than an estimated 90% of the U.S. population.

The study’s authors suggest that removing BPA and DEHP from food packaging could significantly decrease exposure for adults and children. The researchers conclude that “these results illustrate how intervention studies of chemicals in consumer products can inform regulatory decision-making, product formulation and consumer choices.”

Tags: nutrition, consumer affairs, pollution