Phthalates belong to a group of chemicals called 'phthalic acid diesters'. These are found in many household items and in some food packaging especially those that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Fact about phthalates in food
Phthalates take a long time to break down in the environment, so they may be found at low levels in some foods.
Research has shown that phthalates can affect the liver in animals, but the level of phthalates that is consumed in food is not thought to be a risk for humans.
There has also been some concern that phthalates may be harmful to humans because they are 'endocrine disrupters' - substances that may be able to interact with human hormone systems.
There is evidence that some wildlife species have been affected by endocrine disrupters. However, there's no conclusive evidence that exposure to these chemicals has a harmful effect on humans.
Monitoring the potential toxic effects of phthalates in food
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is aware of public concern about the effects of phthalates. It commissions chemical safety research and surveys of substances in food contact materials that might be harmful to human health.
Safe limits for phthalates in food
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) sets limits for the safe use of phthalates in food contact materials.
The EFSA reviews all the scientific evidence to set a 'tolerable daily intake' (TDI). This is the amount of phthalates in food or drinking water that people can safely consume every day throughout their lifetime without any appreciable harm.
The European Commission converts the tolerable daily intake into a legal limit for the amount of phthalates that can migrate into food. This migration limit is included in European and UK legislation and includes wide safety margins.