FAQs: The Safety of Food Containers Made with Polycarbonate Plastic

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Polycarbonate plastic has been studied and tested for nearly 50 years, and its use in products that come in contact with food is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as governmental bodies worldwide.

A raw material used in polycarbonate plastics, bisphenol A (BPA), has been the subject of news reports questioning its safety. Extensive safety data on BPA show that polycarbonate plastic can be used safely in consumer products. The use of polycarbonate plastic in food-contact applications continues to be recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and other regulatory authorities worldwide.

What is polycarbonate plastic and what types of products are made from polycarbonate?
Polycarbonate is a type of plastic that is clear, lightweight, heat resistant, and shatter resistant – a significant safety advantage. This unique combination of attributes makes polycarbonate a great material for a wide variety of applications, many of them involving direct contact with foods and beverages.

Because of its toughness, polycarbonate also is used for a variety of other everyday products, like eyeglass lenses, consumer electronics, bullet-resistant windows, bicycle helmets and other protective safety equipment.

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What does bisphenol A have to do with polycarbonate and some other types of food containers?
Some plastic products contain trace levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical building block used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Because of their unique properties, these materials are used in a wide variety of products, many of which help to improve the health and safety of consumers.

For example, epoxy resins are used to coat the interior surface of most food and beverage cans. These resins provide a major public health benefit by protecting food from contamination by corroded metal and bacteria.

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Has BPA been tested for safety?
Yes. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the most extensively tested materials in use today. The weight of scientific evidence clearly supports the safety of BPA and provides strong reassurance that there is no known risk to human health.

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What about BPA exposures from other polycarbonate products and reusable food containers? Are they safe, too?
Researchers from government agencies, academia, and industry worldwide have studied the potential for bisphenol A (BPA) to migrate from polycarbonate products into foods and beverages. These studies consistently show that the potential migration of BPA into food is extremely low, generally less than 5 parts per billion under conditions typical for uses of polycarbonate products. At this level, a consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consequently, human exposure to BPA from polycarbonate plastics is minimal and poses no known risk to human health.

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What is a typical person’s exposure to BPA?
An extensive body of human exposure research, including biomonitoring studies, has been conducted worldwide. Studies consistently indicate that human daily intake of BPA is extremely low and typically in the range of 1-2 micrograms per day or 20-30 nanograms/kg-body weight/day. These levels are about 1,000,000 times below levels where there were no adverse effects in multi-generational animal studies. Similarly, these levels are about 400-2,000 times below lifetime daily intake levels set by government bodies in the United States and Europe that are expected to be without adverse effect. Comparisons indicate a substantial margin of safety between actual and safe levels of exposure.

For perspective:
  • 1 microgram = one millionth of a gram. As a concentration, 1 microgram per liter = 1 part per billion. This is equivalent to 1 second in 32 years.
  • 1 nanogram per liter = 1 part per trillion. This is equivalent to 1 square inch in 250 square miles.

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Would washing a polycarbonate container in a dishwasher or using it in a microwave cause unsafe exposure to BPA?
No. Studies by government agencies, academia and industry have examined the typical ways consumers use polycarbonate products, including microwaving, washing in a dishwasher, sterilizing, and storage at a variety of temperatures. These studies have found that any amount of BPA consumers may encounter is far below the safe levels established by government bodies.

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What about claims that very “low-dose” exposures to BPA have resulted in adverse effects in laboratory animals?
The “low-dose hypothesis” for bisphenol A (BPA) has been thoroughly tested with a series of extensive, carefully conducted studies. This research includes definitive large-scale studies as well as studies aimed at replicating the results of studies reporting low-dose effects. These studies consistently demonstrate that the low-dose hypothesis is not valid for BPA.

The weight of scientific evidence clearly supports the safety of BPA and provides strong reassurance that there are no known human health concerns from exposure to low doses of BPA.

In addition, it is notable that actual human exposure levels are well below the “low doses” claimed to cause endocrine effects in some animal studies. The “low doses” tested in animal studies are almost all at the level of 1,000 nanograms/kg-body weight/day or higher, compared to typical human exposure levels of 20-30 nanograms/kg-body weight/day.

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