Food safety expert criticises EU packaging proposal

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

EU proposals to restrict plastic packaging could lead to outbreaks of food borne viruses, claimed an expert
EU proposals to restrict plastic packaging could lead to outbreaks of food borne viruses, claimed an expert
Proposals by the EU to restrict packaging and other items for serving food would lead to the spread of a number of foodborne virus and bacteria, such as salmonella and campylobacter, an expert in food science has claimed.

The new rules would see the restriction of access – and, in some cases, outright bans – to disposable cups, glasses, trays, boxes and other food containers. More emphasis would be put on consumers to use their own reusable containers to transport food.

David McDowell, professor of food studies at Ulster University and chairman of the UK advisory committee on the microbiological safety of food, claimed a ban on or reduced access to food and drink service packaging would lead to increased risks of human foodborne illness.

‘Leaving behind bacteria’

“Even if they think they are doing the job properly, consumers typically fail to clean reusable containers adequately, leaving behind bacteria and viruses that you really don’t want near food,” ​said McDowell.

“They then carry this dangerous material around in reusable bags, alongside other items, which also present a high risk of cross-contamination. If consumers bring these containers for refill at takeaway food outlets, coffee shops or even use them with vending machines or water fountains, there is a high risk that these contaminants will be transferred to other people’s food.”

Raised concerns

McDowell raised concerns that the EU’s proposals had not been subject to a detailed impact assessment for the hygiene, health and safety risks EU consumers might be subjected to unintentionally.

“These matters merit a much more considered and careful debate by EU legislators than has been the case to date. It would be prudent to avoid unnecessary risks with food safety and public health,” ​he added.

Meanwhile, a consultation on the potential amendments to food and animal feed law after the UK leaves the EU has been launched by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Related topics: Hygiene, safety & cleaning

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1 comment

Reusable or Abusable?

Posted by Victor Goodridge,

The large increase in food borne illness between 1945 and the mid-1990s has been blamed on a number of factors, not many of which have been properly investigated. To suggest that the use of reusable containers would increase the incidence of such diseases is an example of this trend to disregard the need for evidence.

Reusable containers were in use extensively before 1945. We could perhaps add the increase in the use of disposable containers to the factors that might be shown to have a relationship to the increase in food borne illness. Seeing some of the containers manufactured, as I often do, the relationship, if it could be proved, would not surprise me.


So, would the abuse of reusable containers lead to an increase in disease? In simple terms, we do not know. The "evidence" I have just presented might indicate otherwise. However, I have no more confidence in the at "evidence" than in the other factors I have mentioned. I think Professor McDowell's suggestion that there should be more considered debate on the subject is absolutely correct. I would like to see disposable packaging completely replaced by reusable, but not at the expense of increases in illness.

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