Food and Cuisine

Published on June 30th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance


Toxic Flame Retardant May Be Entering Our Food Supply

Transporting food thousands of miles farm to market has its consequences. Not only does this practice leave a heavy carbon footprint and mean food is not as fresh as if locally grown, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found it also allows toxic chemicals to enter our food supply. Of particular concern are the plastic pallets “used to ship, cool and store produce.” These pallets contain decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), a toxic flame retardant that may be leaching into our food.

Image by karimianFruits and vegetables may be tainted with toxic neurotoxin Deca from shipping pallets

Fruits and vegetables may be tainted with toxic neurotoxin Deca from shipping pallets

Deca belongs to the family of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). From children’s pajamas to electronics, PBDEs are used in many products and have been found in children’s blood and falcon eggs. EWG has written the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressing their concern about Deca in the plastic pallets used in our food supply.

Deca is a neurotoxin and suspected carcinogen that persists in the environment and accumulates in human tissue. Millions of plastic pallets, each containing 3.4 pounds of Deca (according to industry estimates) are currently in use. These contaminated pallets could introduce millions of pounds of toxic fire retardant into the environment each year…

It is standard practice in the food industry to “hydro-cool” produce by submerging food stacked on pallets in water or by dripping water over stacked pallets containing produce. Preliminary studies strongly suggest that Deca leaches from pallets into the cooling water. Because water is recycled numerous times during the hydro-cooling process, considerable levels of Deca residue could be left on hydro-cooled produce.

EWG has asked the FDA to order the stoppage of the use of “Deca-treated plastic food pallets in the food industry.” The FDA has not approved Deca pallets for hydro-cooling, yet the industry has taken up the practice. The plastic pallets are currently being used by “General Mills, Borders Melon Company, PepsiCo, Cott, Okray Family Farms, and Martoni Farms, with trials up and running at Dole Foods and Kraft,” according to EWG. Richard Wiles, EWG’s senior Vice President and for Policy and Communications explains:

Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, but contaminated produce pallets could cause millions of men, women and children to consume harmful levels of a chemical neurotoxin. A toxic chemical designed to suppress fire should not be allowed to taint the food we eat.

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