Celebrating 50 years of Quality Food Packaging

Foam Food Service Packaging

By Genpak Product Managers
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My morning started out pretty good. Got the kid off to school, had my morning coffee and the temperature is actually reasonable (for this time of year)…then I read through some emails. Normally a fairly benign task to be sure. But in this morning’s emails were two articles regarding food service packaging. Needless to say they were not very complimentary as it seems to be lately. The first article covered the proposed ban of polystyrene food service products in San Mateo County which is a coastal community in northern California. Nothing new here really and it’s a topic that’s been covered many times within this blog, but I can’t help myself from tendering to you a thought or two. The article talked about two specific issues including marine litter and health concerns. It is true there is an issue with pollution of all sorts being allowed to enter the oceans. Foamed polystyrene seems to be taking the brunt of this. Why you ask? I’ll tell you. It’s because foamed polystyrene floats. You can see it. I’m sure you’ve heard of the old phrase “out of sight, out of mind”. Well that phrase applies here. Of all the trash, litter and debris people so carelessly toss out into the environment that make their way into our oceans, only those items that are light weight, like many plastic items such as foamed polystyrene can be seen because they float. All that other junk like tires, cans, hub caps and of course anything liquid sinks to the bottom where do their nasty work completely unseen. I’m certainly not suggesting that litter is not an issue. It is and should be addressed. But perhaps instead of banning products and causing increased costs to already over burdened restaurants, governments should step up the policing of litter bugs and enforce fines. Also, according to the Keep America Clean, increase the number of public trash receptacles and include lids. One of the main sources of litter is overflowing trash cans. One good gust of wind will carry any light weight item right out of it.

The other point of that particular article talked about this material as being a supposed health hazard. That it can leach things into food. The statement made in the article was very vague and general in terms. No official report or study was sited. Just a general statement. It always burns me when I see this type of statement. There has been plenty of talk and study done regarding BPA’s and their possible effects to humans. However, foamed polystyrene does not contain BPA. Never has to my knowledge. People need to realize that not all plastics are the same. Far from it. Each type has its own separate set of structures and it should not be assumed that all are the same. Just because one dog has fleas doesn’t mean the whole kennel is bad!

This segway’s right into the second article I read this morning entitled “Toxics Leaching From Plastic Food Packaging”. I will give this article credit in that it actually called out a few specific substances, but once again it failed to list the types of plastics in question. It’s like making a statement of “cars have brake problems”. First thing I’d ask is, which cars? Anyway, this article was talking about phthalates which is a substance used to make certain type of plastics like PVC (that plastic your water pipes are made from) more flexible. They are also used as coatings for pharmaceutical and supplement pills. PVC is not a material used for food packaging. I’d be more concerned about that pill coating since that is definitely consumed. I can report to you that nothing we make has phthalates in them!

The best part of this was that the article goes on to state “what you can do”, presumably to avoid this substance. The first was to buy whole, fresh foods. Fair enough. For those, you only really have to deal with the pesticides, herbicides and maybe even the stray GMO if your afraid of that (by the way my favorite GMO is the seedless watermelon and seedless grapes). The second was to take the DIY approach. For those of you who don’t know, DIY stands for Do It Yourself. The person who wrote that article is suggesting you purchase a food processor of some sort and make your own baby food or perhaps buying a dehydrator to preserve your own fruits. Okay that one might be a stretch, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as I’m an avid DIYer, although not in the food processing game. More of the projects around the house kind. The third, and my personal favorite was to make friends with a farmer so you know which types of foods are in and out of season. I guess this is so you can buy only those products that are fresh and ripe for consumption. They even provided a web site that linked to a map showing what is in season in your area. Well, I decided to just check that out since tonight is grocery night. I, like millions of other people live in the Northeast, New York to be specific. The interactive map that is supposed to tell me what to buy for supper tonight (according to that author) said “Growing season is currently dormant here; opt for items in storage such as apples, pears and root vegetables”. Hmmm apples, pears and root vegetables. I can tell you a steady diet of apples, pears and root vegetable will not make me king of the household not to mention the undo strain this will put on our septic system due to all that fiber.

I guess my point to all of this is that, if you do read these articles and blogs on this or any topic, please don’t take what is written as the absolute gospel truth. Not even what is written here for that matter (although you can trust me). Do your own research. Find multiple reliable sources. See if there is collaboration to what is being claimed and draw your own conclusions. You’ll feel better having looked into it and you might even get a laugh out of what you find, like that crazy “what’s fresh” map which is completely worthless to those of us who live with ice and snow for 5 out of 12 months a year.

Until next time…

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