Food contact materials: an effect-based evaluation of the presence of hazardous chemicals in paper and cardboard packaging

Food contact materials (FCMs) can contain hazardous chemicals that may have the potential to migrate into food and pose a health hazard for humans.

Previous studies have mainly focused on plastic materials, while data on packaging materials made from paper and cardboard are limited.

We used a panel of cell-based bioassays to investigate the presence and impact of bioactive chemicals on human relevant endpoints like oxidative stress, genotoxicity, inflammation, xenobiotic metabolism and endocrine system effects in extracts made from paper and cardboard.

In total, 23 methanol extracts of commonly used paper and cardboard available on the Swedish market were extracted as a whole product using methanol to retrieve polar substances, and tested at concentrations 0.3–10 mg/mL and 0.2–6 mg/mL. At the highest concentration bioactivities were observed in a high proportion of the samples: oxidative stress (52%), genotoxicity (100%), xenobiotic metabolism (74%), antiandrogenic- (52%) and antioestrogenic receptor (39%).

Packages of potential concern included cake/pastry boxes/mats, boxes for infant formula/skimmed milk, pizza boxes, pizza slice trays and bag of cookies.

It should be noted that the extraction for packages like cake/pastry boxes can be considered exaggerated, as the exposure usually is shorter. It can be hypothesised that the observed responses may be explained by inks, coatings, contaminants and/or naturally occurring compounds within the material.

To summarise, an effect-based approach enables hazard identification of chemicals within FCMs, which is a valuable tool for ensuring safe use of FCMs.

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