Aaron L. Brody

Food packaging touches each of us every day. Because of food packaging, starvation and hunger are infrequent in industrialized societies, and very few of us in Westernized environs have to engage in the daily agonies of providing for ourselves. Packaging is the key link in the supply chain that delivers nutrition and food quality, safely, with diversity, and for pleasure.

Food packaging is so critical that we would not be able to survive without it. Nevertheless, there are those who do not like food packaging and spread misinformation about it.

Often, we hear and read that food packaging is the great corruption that will cause our planet’s demise. Plastic grocery bags are being banned, and plastic water bottles are being targeted. The media are railing on us for drinking water out of plastic bottles that will not degrade for a long time. How long ago were these same reporters condemning contaminated tap water and praising the advent of lightweight, easy-dispensing plastic water bottles providing a “safe” water supply? How long ago were they lauding the launch of plastic carbonated beverage bottles to replace all those heavy and breakable, dangerous glass bottles, or praising those “juice boxes” for their ability to deliver convenient product without refrigeration?

For decades, we have received messages that paperboard packaging for milk is better for nutrient retention than bottles—first, glass and later, plastic—when the fact is that milk turnover increases exponentially with more and prettier graphics on the package surface, regardless of material. And we hear that metal cans are leaching evil materials into the contents that eventually find their way into our bloodstreams and tissues.

Migration of hormone-mimicking chemicals from residual monomer in plastic water bottles is accused of being the cause of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature onset of menstruation, and perhaps even dandruff. Amazing, since the polyester from which more than 98% of water bottles are fabricated does not contain the monomer in question. It might be present in reusable polycarbonate water bottles, such as those used for water coolers, but all government agencies around the world have declared that even the minute quantities detectable by our finest analytical equipment are without harm at these trivial levels.

Fact: No one in the food or food packaging industry intentionally—or inadvertently if they happen to be alerted—employs package materials or structures intended to harm any user. Losing consumers is bad for business.

Fact: Laboratory testing and commercial experience are sound sources of data that support the safety of package materials and structures. Whether the laboratories are within an industry or are independent, objective data and conclusions result. To brush all such laboratories as “biased” because their professionals are paid is preposterous and totally illusory.

Fact: Government evaluations of the safety of package materials and structures have proven to be the best criterion of this critical variable of our contemporary life. To condemn such agencies and their information as tools of “industry” is self-serving at a minimum.

Fact: As much as all of us strive for perfection, sometimes new data lead us to draw different conclusions. The entire history of food and food packaging is written with change based on new findings. But to think that all currently accepted information on the characteristics of plastic food packaging is wholly erroneous and will be erased by some sweeping pronouncement from afar is absurdity in the ultimate.

But these facts don’t deter the accusers, who say that government agencies are in the employ of the plastics industry and that even if today’s heralded maladies cannot be linked to plastics, future generations will be injured by the residues of our present indiscretions.

A glass bottle supplier has even sent press releases saying that consumers should convert to “safer” recyclable glass bottles from which no nefarious migrants have been detected. By impugning the safety of any single food package, these self-serving communicators provide fodder for the accusers to expand their accusations and encourage further fear and concern among consumers.

My anxieties arise not from the charges themselves, but rather from the paucity of substantive data used to support them and because the war cries have been taken up by members within our own community as if there is some validity to the rants.

There are far greater threats to our existence than plastic food packaging. Let’s praise plastic and other food packaging for its delivery of safe food—a commendable accomplishment.

by Aaron L. Brody, a Fellow of IFT and Food Technology Contributing Editor, is President and CEO, Packaging/Brody, Inc., P.O. Box 956187, Duluth, GA 30095 ([email protected]).