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J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2013-202593
  • Commentary

Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge?

Press Release
  1. Miquel Porta5
  1. 1Food Packaging Forum Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland
  2. 2Environmental Health Sciences, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
  3. 3Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  4. 4Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  5. 5Hospital del Mar Institute of Medical Research (IMIM), School of Medicine, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and CIBERESP, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jane Muncke, Food Packaging Forum Foundation, Staffelstrasse 12, Zurich CH-8045, Switzerland; jane.muncke{at}fp-forum.org
  • Received 7 October 2013
  • Revised 14 November 2013
  • Accepted 27 December 2013
  • Published Online First 19 February 2014

In the early 1990s, several groups of scientists—including epidemiologists and pneumologists—began to publish a series of prospective studies reporting an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases in people exposed to low levels of airborne particles.1 ,2 Before these publications, toxicological studies had primarily focused on pulmonary effects of particulates in laboratory animals—and the results from those studies indicated that air pollution levels in many places were too low to cause harm to humans. This created something of a paradox, seemingly: epidemiologists finding adverse effects for which the biological mechanisms were not apparent. Over the next several years, the epidemiological and clinical evidence on cardiovascular effects associated with particulates increased,2 leading to the design of toxicological and other laboratory studies aiming at understanding mechanisms for the effects. Epidemiological data challenged assumptions and furthered knowledge about the mechanisms of toxicity. And ultimately, the toxicologists began asking and answering different questions. Laboratory and population studies were enriching each other, as they should. As a result, we now have a good understanding of cardiovascular risks from particulates, and have corresponding policies and regulation to protect citizens from air pollution.3–5

Food contact materials and human health: a new challenge for epidemiological research

As ubiquitous as particulate air pollution (or more), but until recently with a much lower profile, food contact materials (FCMs) have long posed a silent challenge to researchers concerned with human health, nutrition and the environment. FCMs are articles used in packaging, food storage, processing or preparation equipment that come directly into contact with human foods. Most often FCMs are made of plastic or have a synthetic material in direct contact with the foodstuff—for example, as can coating, laminate in beverage cartons or the closures of glass jars. Importantly, most FCMs are not inert. Chemicals contained in the FCM, such as monomers, additives, processing aids or reaction by-products, can diffuse into foods. …

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