Survey reveals concerns over food packaging health risks

See a larger version of this infographic at Friends of Glass.

A new survey, published earlier this week (13 May), has revealed that people in the UK and throughout Europe have growing concerns over the health risks that stem from food and beverage packaging.

The survey, carried out by European consumer forum Friends of Glass as part of its Look Beyond the Label campaign, was conducted online in 11 EU countries.

The results show that many people are concerned about food safety – 51 per cent of the 1,020 people surveyed in the UK said they were worried about how ‘natural and safe’ the contents of their food and drink are, ranking it a greater concern than ‘international terrorism, crime and political corruption’, ‘environmental problems’, and ‘public safety’.

When asked specifically about food contamination and chemical migration – the movement of chemicals from packaging and into food and beverages – respondents from the UK seemed less concerned than those from southern and eastern EU countries. Only 36 per cent of the UK sample were worried ‘a lot/to some extent’, whereas in Poland and Croatia the figure was 83 per cent.

Furthermore, when asked whether they believed that minor chemical interactions from the materials in food and beverage packaging can cause health risks, 72 per cent of the UK sample confirmed that they did. The figure was the lowest of all the countries asked, compared with 93 per cent of Italian and Croatian respondents.

Glass is considered the ‘safest’ packaging

Throughout the 11 countries there was a unanimous verdict that glass was the ‘safest’ packaging for both food and beverages. It ranked as the top category when pitted against ‘beverage cartons’, ‘plastics’, ‘metal beverage can’, ‘metal tin’ and ‘bag in a box’. Only 15 per cent of people believed there was any kind of reaction between the glass packaging and the food/beverage it contained, compared with 59 per cent of people believing a reaction occurred with plastic packaging.

The results of the survey were compared with those from 2010 and show a growing concern for health and the environment when it comes to choosing food packaging. Sixty-one per cent of people who chose glass this year did so because it is considered ‘safe for your health’. This is compared with 48 per cent who cited the same reason in the previous survey.

Recent media coverage

The findings of this survey, which could be viewed as originating from a biased source, come on the back of recent media coverage on scientific concerns about chemicals leaching into foods. A report by a group of scientists in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (part of the British Medical Journal Group) claimed that chemicals used in the packaging, storage and processing of foodstuffs might be harmful to health over the long term. This is because ‘substances contained within the packaging can migrate into the foods we eat’.

Dr Jane Muncke from the charitable Food Packaging Forum Foundation was one of the report’s authors. She says: “Chemicals diffuse from food packaging into foods in small amounts, and in the past this was considered low risk. But based on recent scientific understanding, we now are concerned about even low levels of hormone active chemicals, and far too little is known about the mixture effects and especially about our exposure to such chemicals at critical points in human development, such as in the womb and during early childhood.”

However, James Lee, Managing Director of Cromwell Polythene, has previously told Resource that plastic packaging does not deserve its ‘bad boy’ reputation and is actually helping to conserve non-renewable resources.

He said: “Not only does plastic meet the most stringent food safety hygiene requirements, but no other material can match the savings that modern lightweight packaging delivers in fuel and CO2 emissions throughout the supply chain.”

Read the full Friends of Glass survey or James Lee’s Comment piece for Resource.