FDA Ban: Pizza Boxes Could Cause Birth Defects

If you are planning to order that pizza tonight, wait! The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has banned a chemical commonly used in pizza boxes over health fears.

There’s a reasonable chance the chemical could cause harm to consumers’ health. Packaging for pizza and sandwiches will change once the new FDA rule takes effect

The change applies to three types of perfluoroalkyl ethyl (PFA), which is used in food contact substances (FCS) according to a report in Food Safety News. FCSs prevent paper products, like pizza boxes, from getting soaked when they come in contact with greasy or fatty foods by working like water and oil repellents.

Perfluoroalkyl ethyl is also present in microwave popcorn bags, waxy pastry bags, and countless other products, including tents and carpet cleaners. The ban will only apply to anything that makes contact with food.

Previous research has linked exposure to long-chain perfluorinated compounds with birth defects.

An October 2014 petition called for a ban of FCSs in common food packaging. It was filed by nine organizations: the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Food Safety, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children’s Environmental Health Network, Environmental Working Group, and Improving Kids’ Environment. The FDA’s decision comes in response to the petition.

The environmental coalition’s petition referred to a safety review the FDA undertook in 2010 of long-chain perfluorocarboxylates, which are structurally similar to the three perfluorinated chemicals regulated on Jan. 4. The agency’s review raised concerns that the perfluorocarboxylates could harm the male and, possibly, female reproductive systems. The coalition said,

“Based on this conclusion, FDA took the unprecedented step of asking three companies with effective Food Contact Substance notifications (FCN) for perfluorocarboxylates to cease their sale and distribution in the United States. In 2011, all three voluntarily agreed,”

FDA is now saying that new information shows, “the toxicity of substances structurally similar to these compounds demonstrate there is no longer a reasonable certainty of no harm from the food-contact use of these [food-contact substances].”

Food and Drug Administration Headquarters, White Oak, Maryland [Photo By Al Drago/Getty Images]
This seems to be a delayed response as the science detailing the dangers of PFASs has been around for years.

The three banned chemicals are already rarely used, the FDA said in a statement, with most food packaging manufacturers willingly staying away from them. The Daily Environment Report says that the SPI–The Plastics Industry Trade Association seconded the FDA’s findings. In their statement, they said,

“It is the understanding of SPI’s member companies that the materials listed in FDA’s final rule are no longer manufactured for food-contact applications and represent an old technology. FDA’s action thus does not impact SPI’s members.”

Campaigning groups applauded the decision but hope to see the administration take further action on the matter. Erik Olson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said,

“The FDA’s ban is an important first step—but just a first step—toward improving the safety of our food supply. Now it should act on our petition to ban the seven other chemicals we believe—and government agencies such as the toxicology program at the National Institutes of Health have found—cause cancer.”

According to a report in Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), the Environmental Working Group sees the ban as a hollow one. EWG President Ken Cook said to BNA,

“Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging. It’s taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out, and it’s banning only three chemicals that aren’t even made any more.”

The FDA’s decision will reportedly take effect 30 days after its filing Thursday in the Federal Register, the federal government’s daily journal.

[Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images]