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Packaging leaching worries EU consumers

Two thirds of European consumers are concerned about the migration of chemicals from packaging into food, with glass seen as the least risky among packaging materials, a new study suggests.

In a survey conducted by European consumer forum Friends of Glass, 66% of respondents across 11 EU countries indicated that they were to some extent worried about the leaching of packaging materials.

Italian consumers were the most concerned (73%), while UK respondents appeared the least preoccupied about food and drink contamination, with 36% indicating they were a lot or to some extent concerned, and the rest saying only a little or not at all.

UK consumers indicated glass as the packaging they considered the safest (38%), followed by bag in boxes, metals tins and beverage cartons. Plastics packaging was deemed the least safe (10%) after metal beverage cans (3%).

Rebecca Cocking, ‎head of container affairs at British Glass Manufacturers Confederation, said: “There is clearly some concern in the UK about the issue of food contamination from certain types of packaging sources but, when we look to many other European countries, they have even greater worries about this. 

“The reasons why it’s a greater concern in Europe are not entirely understood. Whatever it is, one thing that is clear is there is a universal message across all of these countries, and the UK, that consumers prefer glass, which is inert, as the healthiest material for food and drink.

“It’s time for us to look beyond the label that tells us what’s in our food and drink and also think about what our food and drink is packaged in.”

Geoff Mackey, sustainable development and communications director at BASF Europe North, stressed the need to “keep things in perspective” (see box below).

Geoff Mackey, sustainable development and communications director at BASF Europe North:

In such discussions it is necessary we keep things in perspective and see the benefits too.

There is substance leaching from every packaging material, especially after some cleaning cycles.Any migration from plastics is heavily regulated, stringent scientific evaluation before use is undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority, which defines safe levels under worst case assumptions.

The real risk is a good question, I know of no case for a plastic packaging material to have had a real health risk and be removed from the shelves.

But if the packaging does not work properly there are real hygienic risks with toxins of bacteria or fungi far greater than any leaching question.

Conversely the food companies have concerns about glass as breakages cause line stoppages for cleaning, and therefore additional procedures are required. I don’t need to state the dangers of glass in food.

Risk assessment is about taking a more holistic approach.

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