16th March, 2011
Breakfast cereals, pasta, rice and other foods packed in cardboard boxes could be tainted with toxic chemicals, researchers warn.
The substances appear to be leaching from the recycled paper used to make mostÂ cardboard boxes.Studies in Germany and Switzerland found the levels to be up to 100 times the agreed safe limit in products sold in supermarkets.
The chemicals â€“ mineral oil hydrocarbons â€“ are said to causeÂ inflammation of internal organs. They could also potentially lead to cancer if consumed in high amounts over many years.
The British breakfast cereals maker, Jordans, has switched from using boxes made with cardboard from recycled paper. Other manufacturers, including Kelloggâ€™s and Weetabix, are investigating making changes to their packaging.
Last year, Kelloggâ€™s removed 28million childrenâ€™s cereal boxes from shelves in the U.S. after another related chemical wasÂ found to have leached out of the packaging. Some consumers complained of a foul smell and nausea.
The research in Switzerland on 119 products was led by Dr Koni Grob and a government-run laboratory in Zurich, working withÂ scientists in Germany.
Only those with thicker and more expensive inner lining bags appeared to escape contamination. Dr Grob said: â€˜Roughly 30 productsÂ were free of mineral oils, nearly all because of an inner barrier.
Jordans confirmed they had made the reluctant decision to stop using the recycle packaging despite being an environmentally-conscious business
â€˜The others all exceeded theÂ limits, most by ten times. We calculated that before the end of their shelf life, they would probably exceed the limit 50 times onÂ average and many would exceed it by several hundred times.â€™
Dr Grob stressed there was no immediate threat to health but warned the industry should look for alternative packaging. He rejected simply switching to using trees instead of recycled paper. â€˜It would cost too many trees,â€™ he said. â€˜We need better solutions such as special barriers.â€™
Jordans said its decision to drop cardboard made with recycled materials such as newspapers was taken some time ago. Ink from the newspapers may be a reason for the presence of the contaminants.
The company said: â€˜The latest research emerging is relatively new and Jordans did not change to use accredited board specifically in response to this issue. However, we will be discussing improved supply of recycled board that avoids content from newspapers with the industry and our suppliers.â€™
Weetabix said it was also looking at recycled packaging which does not contain newspapers.
â€˜Our data… does indicate that none of our products pose a risk to consumer health,â€™ the firm added.
Kelloggâ€™s said: â€˜We are working on packaging which will containÂ significantly lower levels of mineral oil and at alternative liners.â€™
Nestle said it did not use recycled newsprint in its cereal boxes and had pouches of food-grade plastic film around the cereal in its boxes.
â€˜Our packaging policy has been in place for over ten years and we are working closely with paper manufacturers to develop new grades of recycled paper,â€™ added a spokesman.