Kellogg Cereal Recall Highlights a New Concern: Chemicals Leaching from Food Packaging
Kellogg is recalling as many as 28 million boxes of cereal because a chemical is leaching from the food packaging into the cereal. The Food and Drug Administration states the reason for the recall as "uncharacteristic off-flavor and smell coming from the liner in the package." Other sources call it a wax-like substance, and parents are being warned that it may cause diarrhea or vomiting, particularly in sensitive children (the recalled cereals — Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops and Honey Smacks — are sugary staples of the Kellogg line, marketed with cartoon characters primarily at children).
The incident highlights a little-appreciated concern: While packaging can help food last longer, it can also leach chemicals into foods. The public is becoming increasingly aware of this since Bisphenol A has been making news. That chemical, found in many hard plastics, has been shown to leach into liquids from water bottles, baby bottles, the lining of cans and other common food packaging, particularly in older plastics that have stored hot foods or beverages. Concern has grown over food packaging, since public awareness has increased about the potential health effects of BPA, which can disrupt the endocrine system and mimic estrogen, and which may influence health issues ranging from prostate cancer to mental development.
Unlike the chemical affecting Kellogg's cereals, Bisphenol A and other food packaging chemicals are typically invisible, odorless and colorless, so you'd never know they were leaching into foods or drinks. And unlike more familiar toxic contaminants where "the dose make the poison," these chemicals may cause health effects at minute levels, primarily because they are so similar, chemically, to human hormones. Scientists are busy studying the effects of these so-called endocrine disruptors, and the list of potential health effects of exposure to hormone mimicking chemicals, alone or in combination, is long, ranging from weight gain to cancer, with the risk most acute early in life (even in the womb).
A 2009 study of 50 legal food packaging substances that are known endocrine disruptors by Jane Muncke, a researcher with Emhart Glass, a Swiss glass packaging company, concluded that "Food contact materials are a major source of food contaminants," that many toxic chemicals and suspected endocrine disruptors can leach from food packaging, and that many chemicals that can leach from food packaging remain unidentified and unstudied.