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Our Food: Packaging & Public Health

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1289/ehp.120-a232
  • News | Focus
  • Bisphenol A (Bpa)
  • Chemical Elements
  • Ecology And Wildlife
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Energy
  • Food Safety And Regulation
  • Industry Issues
  • Infectious Disease
  • Laws
  • Regulations
  • And Policy
  • Lead
  • Metals
  • Phthalates
  • Plastics
  • Recycling
  • Sustainable Development And Conservation
  • Trade And Commerce
  • Water Pollution
  • Green Chemistry
  • Waste Disposal
  • Chemistry
  • Education
  • Medicine


News | Focus Focus A 233 © D on B ay le y/ is to ck ph ot o. co m OUR FOOD Your daily routine has many close encounters with food packaging: For breakfast, cereal from a paperboard box and a can of energy drink. For lunch, canned tuna and a plastic bottle of water. Afternoon snack, a foil-lined plastic bag of potato chips and a shrink-wrapped tray of fruit. By the time you dish up your supper of baked chicken and frozen broccoli, you’ve reaped the benefits of—and discarded—numerous different food-packaging materials. “Packaged food is very convenient. It is nice to have good PACKAGING & PUBLIC HEALTH food that you can grab and go,” says Claudia DeMegret, director of education at the City Parks Foundation in New York. “You try to be conscientious—buy fresh food and recycle. But you also have to wonder about how all this packaging affects the food we feed our kids and . . . how much of it ends up in landfills.” Food packaging does much more than simply hold a product. It keeps food safe and fresh, tells us how to safely store and prepare it, displays barcodes that facilitate purchasing, provides nutritional information, and protects products during transport, delivery, and storage. On the other hand, packaging also fills trash containers and landfills, lasting far longer than the products it was made to contain. It consumes natural resources. And it can also transfer chemicals into our food, with unknown health effects. Our relationship with packaging—you could say it’s complicated. Focus | Packaging and Public Health A History of Benefits For millennia, humans stored their food in containers they found in nature—dried gourds, shells, hollow logs, leaves—as well as baskets and pottery. By the first century BC, the Chinese were wrapping foods with treat- ed tree bark and other forerunners of paper. Centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte used some of the first mass-produc

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