Health Risks In Pizza Boxes

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The frozen ready-to-eat pizza market and the (home-delivered) pizza products of junk food outlets suffer in the face of health and “real food” trends, the processed food stereotype. This view is enhanced by the unattractive design of the standard pizza box (I always lose my appetite when offered pizza in the standard dull, dirty, and greasy box).

Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, states that the convenience of processed frozen pizza explains at least in part the continued loyalty younger adults seems to have to the product. Younger consumers are a key demographic for frozen pizza, due perhaps to improvements in nutrition of frozen pizza; the ease with which it can be cooked, served and shared; as well as the fact that younger shoppers enter the shopping experience with fewer preconceived notions than preceding generations that grew up on highly processed frozen meals. Moreover, frozen pizza is seen as a good value as compared to take-and-bake or restaurant pizza.
This is a strange statement of Packaged Facts, as various market reports have concluded that the young consumer wants simple, freshly cooked food and certainly doesn’t want to eat something that seems “manufactured” or “processed”.
Whoever is correct, it is unfortunate that if the younger consumer is “enjoying” a mass-produced pizza, certainly nobody has told him/her of the health risks hidden in the packaging material of which pizza boxes are made.

Japanese Ishigama Kobo Pizza packaged in flexibles

Japanese Ishigama Kobo Pizza packaged in flexibles

So, before I show some creative designs in pizza boxes, away from the dull and unappetising standard pizza box, let’s have a serious look at the material of which these standard pizza boxes. There are two health risks problems with (among others) the pizza boxes.

Food Packaging Chemical Health Risks Warning
It’s obvious that pizzas themselves aren’t the healthiest food around, but it’s getting worse when we take a look at the boxes in which they’re delivered, as they pose a potentially more serious human health risk, due to the presence of a group of chemicals first introduced into food containers a decade ago.

PFASs (Poly- and perFluoroalkyl Acids), known also as PFCs (Perfluorinated Compounds) allow objects to resist moisture and high temperatures and were introduced to replace a chemical used in the production of Teflon, after health concerns came to light. This hazardous chemical, known as C8 or PFOA, is produced by chemical company DuPont. Today, PFCs are found in pizza boxes and a wide range of other food containers.

Photo courtesy Alphabox Trading

Photo courtesy Alphabox Trading

It’s no surprise of course, with home-delivered and frozen pizzas being so popular in the USA, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that traces of the chemicals can be found in the bloodstreams of nearly every American alive today. They can also pass into embryos developing in wombs, and have been found in animals around the globe.

“Research is needed to find safe alternatives for all current uses of PFASs,” explain Linda Birnbaum from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Phillippe Grandjean from the University of Southern Denmark and the Harvard School of Public Health.
“The question is: Should these chemicals continue to be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment?”

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It’s a similar situation as with BPA. The packaging and food industry are well-aware of the health risks, but it “continues to hide the truth about the health concerns of these new replacement chemicals”, claims Bill Walker, a consultant with the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington. As example Bill Walker says that “after paying a USD 16.5 million settlement in a court case, officials at DuPont assured the public that use of C8/PFOA would be phased out by the end of 2015”. However, according to EWG DuPont is eschewing the public spotlight, to keep the public unaware of its actions. In other words pizza boxes still are incorporating a risk to consumer health and all and every pizza manufacturer is deliberately putting the health of its customer at risk.

It’s clear that this problem (in general) isn’t solved yet, although Ahlstrom in Finland launched in 2012 a perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)-free flexible packaging paper for greasy food products.

Ahlstrom’s PFOA-free packaging paper for greasy foods
The Finland-based Ahlstrom describes PFOA-free as not containing the chemical below current detection limits of 20 parts per billion (ppb) and it is not releasing PFOA or any PFOA precursor.

Note update: Coralpack is not manufactured by Ahlstrom anymore, as actually, Ahlstrom’s Label and Processing activities in Europe and Munksjö AB were combined on May 24, 2013 to form Munksjö Oyj, headquartered in Sweden.

The Coralpack range can be used for grease containing food packaging such as biscuits, pastries, coffee beans, pizzas, microwave popcorn, butter and margarine, and take-away food.

Ahlstrom PFOA-free packaging paper for greasy foods

Ahlstrom PFOA-free packaging paper for greasy foods

To produce grease resistant packaging papers, fluorochemicals are added in the paper production process. However, deriving from the production process of these fluorochemicals, trace amounts of PFOA can be found as an unintended impurity.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invited manufacturers of fluorochemicals to eliminate it totally by 2015.

Ahlstrom’s Paper range spans from 32 to 200 grams per square metre and offers high performance paper characteristics such as printability, laminating, extrusion and crimping.

Migration of Contaminants
In general it can be said that food contact materials can contain some 4,000 chemicals. Among the chemicals present in p.E. plastic bottles is formaldehyde – a well-established carcinogen. Also part of the mix are bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates. These are said to be all linked to disrupted hormone production.

Migration of contaminants through paperboard used in food packaging has been a cause for concern since 2010, with the identification of mineral oils from recycled newsprint as a potential threat to consumer health.

Pizza-boxes and-food-containers contain cancer causing chemicals alarmed scientists warn

Pizza-boxes and-food-containers contain cancer causing chemicals, scientists warn

Traditional barrier coatings are increasingly losing acceptance among customers because they hinder recycling or composting of used fast food packaging. The use of recycled paperboard for fast food packaging, however, is limited by the fact that substances can migrate from the packaging into the food. Many printing inks contain mineral oils, plasticisers or even residues of UV printing ink components. Since the printing ink residues are not removed completely when recycling the paper fibres, residues remain. When these substrates are used for food packaging, residues can migrate from the paperboard into the food especially when the foods are packaged hot or if they are greasy or liquid. This is why fast food packaging has so far been produced mainly from fresh fibre materials.

A study by the Cantonal Laboratory of Zürich in 2011 found that significant amounts of undesired substances can migrate into food and that coatings of polyethylene or polypropylene do not offer adequate protection.

To solve that problem BASF and recycled paperboard manufacturer Feinpappenwerk Gebr. Schuster GmbH are working jointly on a solution for a combined migration and grease barrier on recycled paperboard.

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BASF migration recycled paperboard

The result: Biopolymer ecovio PS 1606. Ecovio is applied to recycled paperboard in an extrusion coating process. This enables the proportion of recycled paper fibres in fast food packaging to be increased while also making it industrially compostable.
The polymer coating applied to the paperboard is thinner than a human hair, but provides the packaging with protection against potential migration of undesired substances while also offering high greaseproof qualities and liquid tightness.

The companies claim that paperboard packaging produced with this method is more than 90% bio-based, recyclable and industrially compostable.

But with all these attacks on our health through packaging, I think, we have to worry more about what the food industry is actually putting into its products, or to speak with Melbourne-based RMIT University’s Dr. Oliver Jones: “I would hazard a guess that the high levels of fat, sugar and salt in a lot of today’s processed food are more of a health concern than any migration of chemicals from the packaging”.

And with that it’s time to have a look at some creativity in pizza boxes, as the standard type is an irritation to the eye. For that creativity you have to wait for the next article.

One response to “Health Risks In Pizza Boxes

  1. Pingback: Health Risks | Green Design GDES3003·

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