Food Packaging

Food packaging is a major source of exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) in children and adults, according to research by Silent Spring Institute and the Breast Cancer Fund. Their Food Packaging Study showed that a fresh food diet significantly reduces levels of these chemicals after just three days.

Researchers assessed BPA and DEHP levels in adults and children from five families by testing their urine before, during, and after a three-day fresh food diet. During the fresh food diet, participants ate organic meals with no canned food and minimal plastic packaging. They also stored food in glass and stainless steel containers and did not eat out at restaurants. While participants were eating the fresh food diet, average levels of BPA in urine decreased by more than 60 percent.

When participants returned to conventional diets, their BPA levels returned to preintervention levels. Average levels of the DEHP metabolites (chemicals that measure DEHP exposure) dropped by over 50 percent during the fresh food diet. Reductions were even more pronounced for the highest exposures, which decreased by over 70 percent for BPA and over 90 percent for DEHP.

“The study provides compelling evidence that removing BPA and DEHP from food packaging would substantially reduce exposures for adults and children,” said Ruthann Rudel, lead author of the study and research director of Silent Spring Institute. “The good news is that now we know how much food packaging contributes to our overall exposure to BPA and DEHP, and we know how to significantly reduce exposures, both on a personal and societal level.”

Exposure to BPA has been associated with effects on the developing brain and on mammary and prostate glands in laboratory studies. DEHP, at common exposure levels, has been shown to affect male reproductive development, steroid hormone levels, and sperm quality in human and laboratory studies. Three of the five phthalates measured in this study, including DEHP, were recently banned under Europe’s REACH regulation because of concerns about reproductive toxicity.

BPA is often used to make hard polycarbonate bottles and the epoxy resin lining of food and beverage cans, and DEHP is used to soften plastic, including some plastic food wrap. BPA and DEHP are also found in a variety of consumer products, including cash receipt paper, shower curtains, and children’s toys. Silent Spring Institute had previously measured BPA and DEHP in household air and dust in 170 homes in its ongoing Household Exposure Study, and DEHP was detected in 100 percent of homes tested.

“As we replace BPA and DEHP,” Rudel added, “substitute chemicals need to be tested for safety before they’re put into use so we don’t end up with a revolving door of hazardous chemicals in consumer products.”

The authors noted that while the research unfolds, individuals can take precautionary steps to reduce their exposures to BPA and DEHP, including avoiding canned food and plastic packaging, cooking more meals at home with fresh ingredients, and using glass and stainless steel containers to store food.

Fresh Food ~ Featured Study


Fresh Food ~ Gallery of Findings