Minimising health risks in food packages/packaging
Food packs have become so handy that they are daily put to different uses. From using them to serve and sell food items, to storing things in the fridge, food packs have become somewhat indispensable. But there have been concerns over their safety, especially when used to serve hot food. Are these fears real or unfounded? Is there any health implication in using food packs?
The Senior registrar in the Department of Community Health at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Odusolu Yetunde said the goal of food packaging is to contain food in a cost-effective way that satisfies the requirements of the food industry, consumer desires, as well as maintaining food safety, and minimising environmental impact.
She said: ‘Food packaging provides protection from three major classes of external factors: chemical, biological, and physical. Materials that are traditionally used in food packaging include glass, metals (aluminium, foils and laminates, tinplate, and tin-free steel), paper and paperboards, as well as plastics. However, a wider variety of plastics have been introduced in both rigid and flexible forms.
“Packaging plays an important role in reducing the effort required to prepare and serve foods. There have been health concerns over packaged food, especially those made with plastics and how safe they are. Studies have shown that some plastics are made of materials that release some of their chemicals into food, especially when subjected to high temperatures. And those have been implicated in causation of some diseases, such as cancers.
“It is, therefore, imperative to advise judicious use of plastics in packaging of food and to also avoid their use too often in microwave oven, because it is said some chemicals are released, which inadvertently seep into the food. The chemicals that are released from plastics, for example Bisphenol A and phthalate, when accumulated in the body through prolonged use can affect the health.”
The health safety practitioner explained that there are different ways to package different types of food. She said: “It also depends on the nature of the food, whether it is raw or cooked, and if cooked, the type or cooking method and additives/ ingredients added to the food. It has been suggested that packaging of food should be done under the best hygienic conditions to prevent any form of contamination.”
In her view, packaged foods should also have appropriate labels on them indicating what is contained therein. “There is a new food safety policy, which every organisation or industry involved in food processing must adhere to, in keeping with international best practices for food safety, which help to minimise hazards. It is called the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP),” she explained.
“It has seven key principles, which must be taken into consideration in any food industry. These seven principles are conducting a hazard and critical control analysis; determining the critical control points, establishing the critical limits, establishing monitoring procedure, establishing corrective actions, establishing verification procedures and establishing record keeping and documentation procedures. “In conclusion, it should be noted that discouraging food packaging is not the solution, but ensuring that food are packaged in a safe, hygienic way, where risk are minimised and managed.”
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