News from CRIS: What's the Risk? Food Packaging

June 6, 2022

What is packaging? What does it do?

There are three core purposes of packaging materials: 

  1. Protect products from contamination or damage. 
  2. Contain and portion products.
  3. Communicate what’s in the packaging to the consumer.

Why is packaging important?

Storage and transportation are required to get foods and beverages from the farm or the source to our tables. There are numerous points in our distribution system where food and ingredients are stored, processed, packaged, transported, and then make their way to our plates. 

Packaging keeps our foods from encountering substances, pathogens, and contaminants that could potentially cause us harm or cause our foods to prematurely spoil (1). 

What are contaminants?

There are three main contaminant categories:

  1. Natural
  2. Human-made
  3. Human introduced natural contaminants 

Natural contaminants consisted primarily of plants, fungi, insects, bacteria, viruses, and more.

Human-made contaminants can include pesticides, residues, unwanted by-products like acrylamides (formed naturally when cooking), and environmental contaminants.

Human-introduced natural contaminants typically describe metals or other elements that can make their way onto our in foods and water.

What are trace contaminants and residues?

As we’ve discussed in prior posts, trace contaminants or residues are incredibly small particles or microorganisms that can make their way into our food system. These particles or microorganisms can include anything from bacteria to pesticides to minerals to chemicals that can be found in our consumables.

What’s the emerging concern?

A review study recently came out showing thousands of potentially harmful chemicals detected in food packaging that could leave trace contaminants or residues on the food product.

While the headline sounds alarming, it’s important to remember some basic concepts we’ve covered in previous posts like the difference between a hazard and a risk and the dose makes the poison.


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