Fresh foods are contaminated by their labels

Fresh foods sold in Canada are contaminated by a chemical found on packaging labels, shows a new study by a Montreal researcher.

Bisphenol S (BPS) is used as a replacement for bisphenol A, the use of which is restricted in Canada as it is associated with prostate cancer and breast cancer. However, BPS is also an endocrine disruptor, a chemical whose effect mimics that of human hormones.

“With all the movement that has been made to get rid of bisphenol A in applications that are close to our food, to find the bisphenol S cousin so frequently everywhere like that, it really surprised us,” admitted the professor. Stéphane Bayen, from the Department of Food Science and Agrochemistry at McGill University.

The researchers analyzed a wide range of packaged fresh foods for sale in Canada, from meats and baked goods to cheeses and vegetables.

They found relatively high concentrations of BPS in labels and stickers on which barcodes or prices are printed by heat transfer. The quantity detected greatly exceeded the limit value authorized by the European Union for substances from packaging that come into contact with foodstuffs.

It is easy to imagine that food has been contaminated by a label affixed directly to it, as in the case of certain fruits and vegetables. But even the thin plastic wrap that covers some foods was not enough to prevent the BPS in the label from contaminating the food.

“It has been shown that these thin films do not act as a barrier at all,” said Professor Bayen. What’s on the labels will end up in the food. »

In contrast, the team found little or no BPS in the wraps, absorbent pads and plastic trays.

A study published in 2020 by American researchers had shown, in experiments on mice, that bisphenol S can cross the placental barrier and potentially interfere with the development of the baby’s brain.

In particular, the researchers had documented a reduction of almost 80% in the concentration of serotonin in the placenta and a three- to five-fold increase in dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters involved in brain development.

No regulation

Canada does not regulate the use of BPS. However, Bill S-5, which would significantly modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, proposes changes long awaited by various environmental groups. This law dictates how the federal government regulates toxic chemicals and other pollutants, with the goal of protecting the environment and people from their harmful effects.

“The point we really, really want to push is not to make the same mistake again,” said Professor Bayen. We replaced BPA with BPS, and there clearly we have a situation where we will have to find a substitute, and we really want it not to be substituted by something that in a few years will be on our radar again. »

The only way to protect yourself from BPA or BPS would be to favor other types of materials for food containers, such as glass, which is completely inert, or metal.

In this vein, when purchasing meat or fish, the consumer would have nothing to lose by providing their own container or packaging (such as aluminum foil) by requesting that the label be affixed to it.

The findings of this study were published by the scientific journal Environmental Science&Technology.

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