We heard the famous marketing quote that , ‘ packaging sells’, but the story for most of the India’s middle class, who eat on roadside eateries is somewhat different , and the new message is ‘packaging kills’ , and more so, when food gets garnished with lead and other hazardous chemicals !
India is a foodie nation, and with the rising middle class, our eating habits are changing. There is an increasing tendency to eat food outside, and India, predominantly being a middle class nation, our preference is for road side eateries and small or mid size restaurants. But what goes unnoticed is; the newspapers used in packing food items, or the printed material on tea bags, and the potential dangers associated with them.
It is a fact, that the newspapers are printed with ink that is dissolved on it with the help of chemical solvents. Studies have shown that printing ink from newspapers can easily gets into foods wrapped or served in them and this is dangerous for health. The solvents used in ink are potentially carcinogenic.
Also, newspapers and cardboard boxes used for packaged foods are made of recycled paper, which may be contaminated with harmful chemicals like di-isobutyl phthalate and di-n-butyl phthalate that can cause digestive problems and also lead to severe toxicity.
It is a fact that the recycled paper used has printing ink residues. These un-cleaned residues have found to contain hormone disruptors like benzophenones and mineral oils which can interfere with reproductive cycle of women.
Through the print based packaging, there is an exposure to organic chemicals called aryl amines, such as benzidine, Naphthylamine and 4-Aminobiphenyl, which are associated with high risks of bladder and lung cancer. Apart from these, printing inks also contain colorants, pigments, binders, additives and photo-initiators, which have harmful effects.
It is also believed, that the mineral oil-based printing inks for newspapers contain mineral oils, which consists of various types of hydrocarbon molecules that can exist as Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons (MOSH) and Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOAH). These hydrocarbons usually convert into gases by evaporation that eventually penetrates food items.
Newspapers are usually produced by a system called offset-web printing, which requires a certain consistency of the ink (it needs to be very thick) and a particular means of drying. For the former, mineral oils (petroleum-based) and solvents such as methanol, benzene and toluene are used; and for the latter, heavy metal (Cobalt)-based drying agents are used. None of these should be used in food packaging, as they are also classified as harmful and can be dangerous for health if consumed.
According to the FAO / WHO, Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, the safe upper limit for the MOSH in foodstuffs is 0.6mg/kg. Older people, teenagers, children and people with compromised vital organs and immune system are at a greater risk of acquiring cancer-related health complications.
Another problem lies in the plastic bags used in takeaways. These bags are made of polyethylene (polythene) and the principal potential ‘migrant’ agent is ethylene. There are a number of potential additives to polythene, such as anti-static agents, ultra-violet protection and flame-retardants. These additives can be very dangerous if they find way into the takeaway food, which usually happens.
According to an article in the British Medical Journal, ‘Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge? J. Epidemiol’ by Muncke J, et al. (Feb 2014), scientists say that most food contact materials (FCMs) are not inert. Chemicals contained in the FCM, such as monomers, additives, processing aids or reaction by-products, can diffuse into foods and this chemical diffusion is accelerated by warm temperature, and in India, the temperatures can touch as high as 45 degrees Celsius.
The scientists believe that FCMs are a significant source of chemical food contamination. As a result, humans consuming packaged or processed foods are chronically exposed to synthetic chemicals throughout their lives.
Formaldehyde, another known carcinogen, is widely present at low levels in plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate. Other chemicals known to disrupt hormone production and used in food and drink packaging include; Bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan and phthalates.
There is an increase in the use of tea bags, and while using teabags, sometimes people squeeze the teabag using the label at the end of the loop. This can leak the ink from the label. I would recommend that the guidelines be framed and implemented to warn people of the same and prevent this practice
I also suggest that based on the facts available, it might be worthwhile banning the use of plastics, recycled materials and newspapers for food packing.
The FSSAI must act immediately and frame guidelines to control wrapping of fried foods in newspapers, banning the use of plastic bags for takeaways, and other practices that are harmful.
Further, it must mandate the use of ‘food packaging grade’ butter paper or aluminum foil for packaging food. We need to act on this without losing any further time
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