The Safety of Polystyrene Foodservice Packaging
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) 12th Report on Carcinogens
In light of the June 2011 inclusion of the substance styrene in the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 12th Report on Carcinogens, some people may wonder whether federal regulators have changed their view on the safety of plastic foodservice packaging made with styrene. The answer is no.
Polystyrene plastic has been used in foodservice products—foam coffee cups, salad bar takeout containers, cutlery—for more than five decades. Polystyrene has been reviewed by regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, that have deemed it safe for use in contact with food. Polystyrene foodservice products offer a sanitary way to serve fresh food and to help prevent the spread of disease at school, restaurants, hospitals...even at home.
To put its report in perspective, NTP states: “It is important to note that the reports do not present quantitative assessments of carcinogenic rise...Listing in the report does not establish that such substances present a risk to persons in their daily lives. Such formal risk assessments are the purview of the appropriate federal, state, and local health regulatory and research agencies.” So NTP has not concluded that styrene or plastic foodservice packaging made with styrene present any risk to human health.
In addition, the U.S. National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in June 2011 noted: “Styrene should not be confused with polystyrene (styrofoam). Although styrene, a liquid, is used to make polystyrene, which is a solid plastic, we do not believe that people are at risk from using polystyrene products.”
Furthermore, the toxicologist who heads NTP was widely quoted in June 2011 news reports: “Let me put your mind at ease right away about Styrofoam,” noting that levels of styrene from polystyrene containers “are hundreds if not thousands of times lower than have occurred in the occupational setting...In finished products, certainly styrene is not an issue.”
In addition to its use in making polystyrene, styrene is naturally present in foods such as strawberries, peaches, cinnamon, beef and coffee and is produced in the processing of foods such as beer, wine and cheese.
Based on scientific tests over five decades, government safety agencies have determined that polystyrene is safe for use in foodservice products. For example, polystyrene meets the stringent standards of the U.S. FDA and the European Commission/European Food Safety Authority for use in packaging to store and serve food. The Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department recently reviewed the safety of serving various foods in polystyrene foodservice products and reached the same conclusion as the U.S. FDA.
Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Report
A twelve-member panel of international experts selected by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis reported in 2002 that the very low levels of styrene present in foods—whether naturally occurring or from polystyrene foodservice products—does not represent a concern to human health.
Learn more about: listing of styrene in the NTP Report | NTP's 12th Report on Carcinogens