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Guide for Plastic Food Packaging

Introduction

  • Plastics are widely used in the food sectors. They range from packaging, wraps, containers, kitchenware, baby bottles etc. Plastic packaging makes food more convenient and keeps food safe by providing physical protection. It prevents contamination and damage during transportation, delivery and storage.
  • Since plastics become an indispensable element in our daily lives, it is important to know about plastics, the safety and proper use of plastic products.
  • Plastics are mostly made from petrochemicals, consisting of carbon-containing compounds called polymers. These polymers are composed of repeated units of smaller carbon-containing compounds called monomers. Different arrangement of monomers within the polymer or different types of monomers used will yield different types of plastics with different properties and characteristics.

Plastic Identification Code for Recycling

  • A uniform system for the identification of plastic called Plastic Identification Code (PIC). This code is used to assist recycling process. It is normally found at the base of the plastic containers or printed at the side of the plastic packaging.
  • The consumers can use the PIC as a guide to identify the type of plastic. However, not all plastic packaging or containers are labeled with PIC.
  • There are seven types of plastic based on the PIC as shown in table below.
Plastic Identification Code (PIC)
Plastic Type
Properties
Common application for food
PET or PETE Polyethylene Terephthalate Clear, tough, barrier to gas and moisture Bottles for soft drinks and water, jam container (e.g peanut butter)
HDPE
High Density Polyethylene
Hard to semi-flexible, resistant to moisture, permeability to gas Milk bottles, juice bottles, grocery bags
PVC, V
Polyvinyl Chloride
Strong, tough, flexible, elastic Cling films
(not typically used for drinking bottles)
LDPE
Low Density Polyethylene
Soft, flexible, tough, scratches easily Frozen food, cling films, container lids, squeezable bottles
PP Polypropylene Hard but still flexible, versatile, barrier to moisture Microwaveable containers, lunch boxes, straws, kitchenwares
PS Polystyrene Rigid, brittle, semi-tough, affected by fats Plastic cutlery, disposable cups and plates, take-away containers
OTHER (Use of this code indicates that a package is made with plastic other than the six listed above) Dependent on plastic or combination of plastics Beverage bottles, baby milk bottles

Safety of Plastics

  • The use of a wide range of chemicals in the manufacture of plastics packaging and containers gives rise to concern amongst consumers.
  • Some chemicals can leach into the food since packaging can involve a long and direct contact with the food during storage at wholesale, retail outlets, and in the home. However, the amount of chemicals leaching into the food depends on:
    • Nature of food – greater leaching of chemical tends to occur in fatty foods
    • Contact temperature – plastic leaches chemicals more readily at higher temperature
    • Contact time – food in contact with plastic for longer time can cause chemicals to leach into the food

Guide for Users: Tips for Safer Use of Plastic Packaging and Containers

  • Use only plastic containers labeled “microwave safe” in microwave ovens.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper usage.
  • Avoid plastic wrap film in direct contact with food during reheating.
  • Avoid using plastic containers to reheat fatty foods.
  • Plastic packaging and containers that are used for commercial packaging of food and take away foods are meant for single use only. Do not reuse them for storage of other foods.
  • Discard old plastic containers that show signs of wear – such as scratches or a cloudy, crackled appearance.
  • Avoid using harsh detergent to clean the plastic containers to prevent chemical leaching.
  • Commercial plastic packaging or containers used for storing of non-food items should not be used for storing food.
  • For baby bottles:
    • Follow recommended guidelines to feed your infant.
    • Discard scratched baby bottles and infant feeding cups.
    • Do not pour boiled or very hot water or other liquids into baby bottles while preparing milk for child.
    • Boil water in other containers and allow it to cool not less than 70°C before mixing it with powdered infant formula.
    • Ready-to-feed liquid formula can be served at room temperature or gently warmed up by running warm water over the outside of the bottle.
    • Always remember: Do not heat baby bottles of any kind in the microwave – the liquid may heat unevenly and burn your infant.
    • Sterilise and clean bottles according to instructions on infant formula labels.
    • Check the labels on your bottles and food preparation containers.

References

  • Plastic Packaging Resins. The Plastic Division, American Chemistry Council, March, 2007.
  • Food Safety Facts – Cooking safety in the microwave oven. Information for Consumers. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. November, 2000.
  • U.S Department of Health & Human Services, Bisphenol A (BPA) Information for Parents

Last reviewed : 3 April 2014
Writer : Susie Lu Ling
Reviewer : Pn. Norrani binti Eksan