Healthcare experts want FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) to frame guidelines mandating proper use of food packaging grade ‘butter paper’ or ‘aluminum foil’ for packaging food.
Keeping the best interest of the consumers in mind, they want the Centre to ban the use of plastics, recycled materials and newspapers for packing or packaging of food.
This demand comes in the wake of increased health hazards posed to the consumers in lieu of frequent and unregulated practice of wrapping fried foods and other food items in newspapers, plastic bags and so on for takeaways.
In this regard, in a high level recommendation sent to health minister J P Nadda, the Disease Management Association of India (DMAI), the only NGO in health with a ‘special consultative status’ from the United Nation’s ECOSEC pointed out that using newspapers for packing food items and printed material on tea bags have shown potential dangers associated with them.
Rajendra Pratap Gupta, president and board member of DMAI, informed that studies have shown that printing ink from newspapers can easily get leached into foods wrapped or served in them posing a huge health risk. A grave cause for concern as the solvent used to dissolve ink on the paper can be potentially carcinogenic. Also, newspapers and cardboard boxes used for packaged foods are made of recycled paper that may be contaminated with harmful chemicals like di-isobutyl phthalate and di-n-butylphthalate that can cause digestive problems along with severe toxicity.
Highlighting the dangers of recycled paper for food packaging, DMAI pointed out that it has printing ink residues trapped from previous prints, which are found to contain hormone disruptors like benzophenones and mineral oils that can interfere with reproductive cycle in women. The association further pressed that exposure to a class of organic chemicals used in the ink called arylamines, such as benzidine, naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl, are associated with high risks of bladder and lung cancer.
It further stresses that apart from these, printing inks also contain colourants, pigments, binders, additives and photo-initiators used for speeding up the drying process of the ink, which have harmful effects. It is also important to note that newspapers are usually produced by a system called offset-web printing, which requires a certain consistency of the ink (it needs to be very thick) and a particular means of drying. For the former, mineral oils (petroleum-based) and solvents such as methanol, benzene and toluene are used; and for the latter, heavy metal (cobalt)-based drying agents are used.
DMAI also bought attention to fast food restaurants packing in thin, transparent plastic bags, as takeaways. They said that these clear synthetic bags are typically made of polyethylene (polythene) in which the principal potential ‘migrant’ agent is ethylene along with a number of potential additives like anti-static agents, ultra-violet protection and flame-retardants, which can be very dangerous if they move into the takeaway food. Similarly, improper use of tea bags is also an issue. While using teabags, consumers at times squeeze the teabag using the label fixed at the other end of the thread, which can lead ink leak from the label.