CFS announces risk assessment study results on phthalates (plasticisers) in food

Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department announced today (February 2) the results of a recently completed risk assessment study on phthalates in food. About 310 food samples were taken from the market for testing of phthalates with the aim of estimating the dietary exposure of the local adult population to phthalates, and to assess the associated health risks. The study results showed that the levels of phthalates found in the food samples would not cause adverse health effects under usual consumption.

     A spokesman for the CFS said, "Phthalates, commonly known as plasticisers, are additives widely used in plastic products to soften plastics.

A wide range of consumer products like plastic containers, clothes, cosmetics, plastic bags, food packaging and toys contain different levels of phthalates. Since phthalates may gradually leach out from the products to the environment upon use, phthalates are ubiquitous in the environment. Therefore, low levels of phthalates in food are not unexpected."

     The CFS collected a total of 317 food samples including beverages, dairy products, fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, cereals, edible oils and condiments for testing of the levels of seven phthalates with reference to their Health-Based Guidance Values (HBGVs) available internationally.

The seven phthalates are Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), Diethyl phthalate (DEP), Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), Diisononyl phthalate (DINP), and Di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP).

     The spokesman said that the study had confirmed the ubiquity of plasticisers. Most of the samples (98 per cent) were detected with at least one phthalate. All phthalates detected were at low levels.

The results are in line with similar studies in other countries. Among the seven phthalates tested, DEHP was the most commonly detected plasticiser, followed by DINP, BBP, DBP, DIDP, DEP and DNOP.

     "As regards the exposure to phthalates, the results showed that even for high consumers, the dietary exposure was well within the corresponding HBGVs for individual phthalates (the maximum exposure was only 13 per cent of the HBGV). Therefore, it should not be a cause for undue concern," said the spokesman.

     The study also found that only four of the samples tested were found to have phthalates at levels exceeding the CFS' action levels.

They include two edible oil samples which were detected to contain DEHP at levels of 3 300 parts per billion (ppb) and 3 500ppb respectively (CFS' action level: 1500ppb), and two Chinese-styled white wine samples found to contain DBP at levels of 470ppb and 560ppb respectively (CFS' action level: 300ppb).

     The spokesman pointed out that the chemical nature of oil and concentrated alcohol made the transfer of phthalates from plastic to food easier. CFS' risk assessment confirmed that these samples would not cause adverse health effects under usual consumption.

     The spokesman said that the study showed that the phthalates in food and dietary exposure to phthalates were both at low levels, which would not cause health problems or food safety risks.  

     The spokesman reminded the trade to choose the right food packaging and contact materials in order to minimise the transfer of plasticisers to food.

     The CFS will continue its routine surveillance of plasticisers in food, enhance communication with the trade and keep in view the relevant international scientific research, risk assessments, regulatory trends and local situation so as to safeguard food safety. The study is available on the CFS' website at" target="_blank">

Published on: 2018-02-02

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