Diwali is incomplete without sweets, snacks, chocolates and juices. FBOs eagerly look forward to the festive season so they can launch new food products. On the other hand consumers are always on the look-out for products they can bring home for Diwali or use for gifting. All retail stores display their products attractively but are the consumers certain that all the products on display are stored, displayed and handled in a manner that keeps them safe to consume? What about the packing material used to pack sweets in? Is it food grade quality or will it cause deterioration in the sweets packed in it?
What material are sweet boxes made of?
Sweets remain one of the most sought after food products during Diwali but do you know that some of the packaging material used for sweet boxes could become a source of food contamination. Studies have shown that chemicals in cardboard boxes, used for packing sweets can contaminate them. Some of the studies have classified these chemicals as carcinogenic and they may also affect the liver and immune system. Some sweet shop owners use grey-board and straw-board boxes to pack the sweets in. What most consumers do not know is that this packing material is made from recycled paper which is often comes from garbage bins and so is considered unhygienic for packing food products. This kind of packaging material reduces shelf life of sweets as it promotes rapid growth of bacteria.
FBOs that deal in sweets must ensure that the sweet boxes supplied to them are from reputed and reliable suppliers and that they have used quality material, odourless and chemical free inks and are PE coated to prevent chemicals from the cardboard entering the packed sweets. Nowadays a number of reputed sweet shop owners use packaging boxes made from Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) because it is environment friendly, hygienic and food packed in them are not contaminated. ECF can be a little costlier but then sweets packed in it are safe to consume. Sweet boxes must clearly state the expiry date and mention storage conditions so sweets do not cause foodborne illness or worse food poisoning.
Dangers of plastic packets used for carrying hot foods
Most consumers are unaware of the harmful effects of consuming hot foods stored or carried in plastic packets. A number of Diwali ‘melas’ and fairs take place in various places in cities during the festive season. Many times consumers carry back hot food from the stalls like hot chole bhature to eat later at home. These hot foods are packed in thin, low-quality packets of plastic. Various chemicals from plastic bags like polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene and polystyrene can leach into the food and can cause chemical contamination leading to numerous health issues.
In fact a number of restaurants also use low quality plastic boxes, containers and cups to pack hot steaming food and the same applies to cling-films that serve as a cover over the packaged containers. According to studies, carrying hot foods or eating out of low-grade plastic containers can give rise to kidney or throat problems and even cause infertility. Therefore, hot food must always be stored or carried only in food grade quality containers.
Unauthorized package material can cause chemical contamination
Plastic is popular packaging material for beverage containers because it is lightweight, strong and has been tested for safety. FSSAI has regulations for packaging material that comes in contact with foods or beverages. A large percentage of bottled beverages are packaged in PET, polycarbonate and high density polyethylene (HDPE) containers. Polycarbonate is the most commonly used material to make food containers and bottles while cans are often lined with epoxy resin. These can release the chemical Bisphenol -A (BPA) into the foods and beverages.
Another material used to make bottles, cling-wrap and caps on jars is PVC. Since PVC is hard, plasticisers like Phthalates are added to make it soft and flexible. If bottles and containers made for these materials are exposed to heat they could leach substances from the plastic to the water, beverages and foods.
What happens to plastic food containers that are stored in sunlight?
During the festival season a number of retailers put up stalls outside their shops to attract customers. According to food safety norms bottled water, soft drinks and packaged foods must be stored at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. This is because plastic food and beverage containers, including plastic bottled water, do not contain additives that prevent the effects of ultraviolet (UV) light. Heat from direct sunlight could weaken the plastic and it could develop leaks which could lead to microbial contamination. Snack foods like potato chips and namkeens that are prepared by deep frying in oil are susceptible to photodegradation.
These food products can develop off-odours and off-flavours when exposed to light. If the snack foods are in clear plastic packets the quality tends to deteriorate faster than foods packed in opaque packaging materials. Direct sunlight can also cause a chemical reaction in a specific food constituent such as pigments, vitamins, fats and proteins.
Studies have shown that orange juice when stored at 38 degrees F for 12 weeks shows very little loss of vitamin C but at higher temperatures, the loss is rapid. As temperature increases, the rate of chemical reactions will increase and some vitamins will be destroyed. Consumers must avoid buying packaged foods and beverages that have been in direct sunlight. Always buy foods that have been stored in a dark, cool and dry place as that preserves its quality and extend its shelf life.