Plastic packaging, microplastics, and food safety

Plastic is effective for storing food. Find out about different types of plastic and how they could affect food.

Plastics can affect food

Plastic is often used to package food, but it can affect food if it's not used properly. Food can be contaminated by:

  • microplastics in the environment
  • additives in packaging.

How microplastics get into food

Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that are found in lakes and rivers worldwide. From there, they can get into food we eat like:

  • seafood (such as fish, shrimp, and shellfish)
  • honey
  • beer
  • table salt.

Some countries have also found microplastics in bottled and tap water.

Effect of microplastics on health

We don't know yet if microplastics in our diet pose a health risk. More research is needed, and is currently being undertaken.

Risk profile: Microplastics in the diet [PDF, 1.1 MB]

Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics – ESR

Plastic packaging and food safety

Plastics used for food packaging and containers are very stable if used properly. Most plastics in contact with food have very large molecules that do not migrate into food.

But additives in some plastics can leach if used for the wrong purpose. For example, heat-resistant or "sticky" plastics (like cling film) may leach into food during cooking or storage.

  • BPA (bisphenol A) is used for plastic bottles and storage containers. It can be released into food if washed with harsh detergents or bleach.
  • DEHA (diethylhexyl adipate) is used in plastic wraps for packaging. It can migrate into fatty foods such as meat or cheese, especially when heated.
  • DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) is used in jar and bottle seals and lid inserts. It's also used in label inks.

How to reduce risk from plastic packaging and containers

Don't wash bottles or containers with harsh detergents or bleach.

Avoid dented food or drink cans.

Cling film melts at low temperatures. When heating plastics:

  • don't let cling film touch food during cooking
  • keep a corner of the dish uncovered so steam can escape instead of settling on food.

Use only microwave-safe plastics in the microwave.

Thaw plastic-wrapped meats, or meats frozen on plastic trays, at low temperatures.

Intakes are well below safe limits

New Zealanders' intake of chemicals from plastics is well below maximum safety limits.

Occurrence and risk characterisation of migration of packaging chemicals in New Zealand foods [PDF, 591 KB]

Who to contact

If you have questions about plastics in food, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: