April 16th, 2018
Endocrine disruptors hidden in Food Contact Materials

European official bodies recently classified Bisphenol A and four Phthalates as Endocrine disruptors. These chemical substances can be found in widely consumed food products as they can migrate from Food Contact Materials such as plastic packaging.

What are endocrine disruptors?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Endocrine disruptors or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are chemical substances altering normal functions of the hormone system of living organisms. For this reason, an endocrine disrupting substance can have adverse health effects. EDCs have been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function, increased incidence of breast cancer and children developmental issues. A toxic effect on immune system is also possible.

The European Commission is stating that there is strong evidence that Endocrine disruptors have toxic effects on animals. For example, feminization has been shown on male fishes. Many possible effects on human are investigated: congenital malformations, cancer, retarded sexual and neurobehavioral development.

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Network (TEDX), a non-profit research institute, suggests that some pesticides, metals, personal care products, food additives and food packaging components might be able to cause endocrine changes.

What are Food Contact Materials?

Food Contact Materials (FCMs) include a wide variety of materials such as plastics, paper, ceramic, metals and ink used in food packaging, food containers and other articles that come into contact with food.

The packaging is an essential element in the food manufacture: it protects food from physical, chemical and microbiological alterations and promotes the product by encouraging the purchase. However, according to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), the packaging may be a source of contamination as migration can occur from these materials with the transfer of chemicals or particles into the food. That is why a specific legislation at national and EU level has been issued with the aim to control harmful contamination and protect consumers’ health. Over the past few years, many research projects have been conducted about the migration of additives, residues and new-formation products. According to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and European Official Bodies, some of the chemicals or particles that can migrate from Food Contact Materials are suspected to have Endocrine Disrupting properties.

Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical employed to manufacture clear, hard and lightweight polycarbonate plastics. This material is notably used to make tableware and storage containers. BPA is also a component for epoxy resins used as lacquers to coat metal products such as cans and bottle tops. BPA can be used for its flame retardant properties as well. According to The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Network (TEDX), BPA is an additive found in many widely used consumer products and is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide.

A report published in 2015 by The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shown that Bisphenol A can have adverse effects on kidney, mammary gland and on liver in animals. EFSA risk managers recently announced a re-evaluation of Bisphenol A toxicity to specify these results.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) published in 2017 a risk assessment identifying Bisphenol A as an Endocrine Disruptor. This is due to its probable effects to human reproduction, notably by damaging fertility and fetal development. As a consequence, in January 2018, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) classified Bisphenol A as an Endocrine disruptor and a “Substance of Very High Concern” (SVHC). Bisphenol A will therefore have to be monitored specifically under the European regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals).

The European Commission has issued in 2018 a new regulation that tightens the restrictions on the use of BPA in packaging. The Specific Migration Limit (SML), which is the maximum amount of the chemical allowed to migrate from packaging into food, has been lowered to 0.05 mg of BPA per kg of food. Plus, Bisphenol A, which is forbidden in baby bottles since 2011, has been banned in the manufacture of any food contact material intended for children up to 3 years old.


Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers in order to increase plastic flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. The main application of phthalates is the fabrication of PVC (PolyVinylChloriden, also known as polyvinyl or vinyl). According to The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Network (TEDX), more than three million metric tons of phthalates are produced annually around the world.

In various risk assessment reports issued in 2005, EFSA assessed that various phthalates have a toxic effect on reproduction. This is in accordance with ECHA experts who have added four phthalates to the list of Endocrine disruptors in 2017: DEHP, DBP, BBP and DIBP. These chemicals are also classified as “Substances of Very High Concern” (SVHC) so that they have to be monitored under REACH European legislation, even if they are allowed in plastics. Moreover, in its annual Community rolling action plan (CoRAP) draft, ECHA added two additional phthalates to this list to be controlled under REACH in EU regulation.

You want to know more about Food Contact Materials and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

In Mérieux NutriSciences Blue Paper 2018, you will read more specific data about Bisphenol A, Phthalates and Endocrine disruptors. You will access information related to levels of exposure, associated risks, preventive measures, norms and regulatory perspectives, as well as a unique analysis of RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) alerts on food. Moreover, other substances coming from Food Contact Materials such as Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons (MOSH and MOAH) and PerfluoroAlkylated Substances (PFAS), and many other contaminants are addressed in this document.

Request the Blue Paper 2018!