Food Products & Packaging Safety
Detecting Chemical Contaminants
& Residues in Food

Image: gloved hand on equipment to test food product packaging

The SwRI food chemistry laboratory tests food product packaging.

image of a gloved hand wiping a plastic pallet

Sampling a plastic pallet.

image of gloved hand wiping a wooden pallet

Sampling a wooden pallet.

The food chemistry labs at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) investigate packaging and shipping conditions and their effects on food products during transport.

Plastics are typically manufactured with flame-retardant additives. One new type of high-density polyethylene plastic shipping pallet is manufactured using the additive Deca, a type of brominated flame retardant. The SwRI chemists performed experiments to investigate whether a specific Deca component, brominated diphenyl ether (BDE) congeners, can migrate from the plastic pallet onto the shrink-wrap of the packages loaded onto it. Results demonstrated that BDE congeners could leach from the plastic pallet to the shrink-wrap beneath the product packages.

Custom Testing and Analysis

The food chemistry laboratories at SwRI are staying abreast of other food safety issues as they arise. Recent concerns involve the presence of bisphenol A in plastic bottles, phthalates in plastic food storage and packaging, banned colors in imported products, undeclared allergens in products and counterfeit products. The SwRI team remains dedicated to providing accurate and timely analyses tailored to fit clients' specific needs.

Although there is much concern over the presence of chemical contaminants in a variety of foods, it must be noted that recent advances in technology allow analytical chemists to detect these compounds at ultra-low levels, typically at the parts-per-trillion level. However, at what levels these compounds cause harm to the human body is not always known. Therefore, the responsibility of setting limits for these compounds in food falls to the government agencies that oversee the food industry.

Related Terminology

food quality and safety services  •  food product and packaging safety  •  acrylamide detection  •  food product recalls  •  phthalates detection  •  bisphenol (BPA) detection  •  pesticide residue

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.