Forum: Plastic food packaging safe when used correctly, but cutting usage vital

Patrons dining at a hawker centre. PHOTO: ST FILE

Plastic is one of the most common materials used for food packaging. When designing plastic food packaging, manufacturers take into consideration the type of food and its contact time with the packaging, as well as the amount of heat that the plastic will be subjected to.

It is crucial that consumers and food establishments use plastic packaging for its intended purpose and in the prescribed way, as advised by manufacturers.

To date, there are no scientific reports showing that plastic food packaging poses any human health risks when used as intended.

Mr Patrick Tan Siong Kuan raised concerns about the ingestion of microplastics through the use of plastic food packaging (Single-use plastics still being used in food production chain, Dec 27, 2019).

There is no scientific evidence thus far regarding the formation of microplastics via the use of plastic food packaging to handle food.

Microplastics are commonly formed through the fragmentation of large plastic debris (for example, fishing equipment) under prolonged exposure to sunlight. Microplastics in the form of microbeads are also often used in cosmetic products such as facial scrubs to enhance their cleaning properties.

If these enter the marine environment and are ingested by marine animals, they can potentially enter the human food chain.

The World Health Organisation's recent assessment based on available evidence has indicated that microplastics pose a low risk to human health.

Nonetheless, the Singapore Food Agency will continue to monitor international scientific developments on the issue of microplastics and implement appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our consumers when necessary.

While plastic food packaging does not pose food safety risks when properly used, there is a need to holistically manage the excessive use of single-use packaging in all parts of the value-chain, to conserve resources and extend the lifespan of our only landfill.

This year, the National Environment Agency will be introducing mandatory reporting of packaging data and 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) plans for packaging, covering companies that supply regulated goods into the Singapore market.

This will lay the foundation for an extended producer responsibility framework for managing packaging waste, including plastics, which would be implemented by 2025.

Astrid Yeo (Dr)

Senior Director, Food Regulatory Management Division

Singapore Food Agency

Desmond Tan

Director, Waste and Resource Management Department

National Environment Agency

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2020, with the headline Forum: Plastic food packaging safe when used correctly, but cutting usage vital. Subscribe