Test: Fluorinated substances in the food packaging from ready-made cakes

8. maj 2018

A test of ready-baked cakes shows that unwanted fluorinated substances are still used in the paper in which the cakes are baked and packaged. The Danish authorities have for several years recommended not to use fluorinated substances intentionally in food packaging material.

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Test: Fluorinated substances in the food packaging from ready-made cakes
Photo: Anne Beck Christensen

Cakes: Most of the packaging is without unwanted substances

In most cases ready-made roulade or cinnamon rolls from the supermarkets can be enjoyed during the coffee break without worrying about unwanted fluorinated substances in the cakes.

However, when the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals tested the paper from 21 cakes, the levels in 3 of them were so high that it is very likely that the unwanted substances were intentionally added to the backing paper.

See the full test in Danish

Fluorinated substances: Why are they problematic?

Fluorinated compounds are a large group of substances that among other things are used as surface treatment of paper and board to make it water- and grease repellent.

Although the health risk of all types of the fluorinated substances is still unknown, researchers have raised concern for the entire group of chemicals.

Fluorinated compounds are not degraded in the environment and they can accumulate in humans and animals. Several fluorinated substances are also suspected of being carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting as well as having negative effects on the immune system.

Scientists from both Denmark and other countries call for keeping the use of all fluorinated substances in consumer products to an absolute minimum.

What is The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals?

Unwanted chemicals: Baking paper of cakes contained fluorinated substances

Fluorinated substances in food packaging are not yet subject to a regulatory limit value.

However, in 2015 the Danish Food and Veterinary Authorities introduced a recommendation for fluorinated compounds. The substances should not be used intentionally in food packaging materials.

At that time the authorities established a guiding limit value which later was changed in to an indicator value (May 2018). The indicator value can help companies and authorities establish whether or not the fluorinated substances have been added intentionally during the production of the packaging material.

Both the former guidance value and the new indicator value are only indicative and not legally binding.

In 3 of the cakes the content of the fluorinated substances ​​was much higher than the Danish authorities' recommendation.

In the Lemoncake from Pågen the content of organic fluor in the cardboard that surrounded the cake was much higher than the indicator value. Also the muffins from Aldi and the cake from 7-Eleven had very high contents of total organic fluorine in the surrounding paper.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has not measured the content of fluorinated compounds in the cake itself. However, other studies have shown that the substances can migrate from the packaging to the food.

Therefore, fluorinated substances in the packaging can contribute to your total exposure to unwanted chemicals - what researchers call the cocktail effect.

Read about all tests of chemicals in consumer products from the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

Paper and board: Fewer cakes with fluorinated substances

The Danish Consumer Council Think Chemicals has previously tested and found high content of fluorinated substances in paper from ready-made cakes.

Paper from 1 out of 3 muffins tested in 2017 and paper from 4 out of 5 cakes tested in 2016 had a content that indicated intentional use of the unwanted substances.

The result of this latest test of cakes indicates that the use of fluorinated substances in baking paper for cakes has generally decreased and that more companies follow the Danish Food Agency's recommendation to avoid the intentional use of the unwanted substances.

4 of the cakes examined in this year’s test were also tested in the test from 2016. At that time they were packaged in paper treated with fluorinated substances.

After the 2016 test several of the manufacturers promised to change the packaging to non-fluorinate treated paper. And this is indeed the case, the results of the test show.

Improvements, but we still have not reached the goal

"Fluorinated substances do not belong in food packaging material. Therefore, the phasing-out of these problematic substances is an important goal to ensure protection of the environment and consumer safety. All manufacturers who promised in 2016 to phase out the use of fluorinated substances from their packaging have kept their promise. We look forward to more or even all companies stopping the intentional use of fluorinated substances in food packaging materials."

Stine Müller, Project Manager and Test Officer in the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

For further questions regarding the findings, please contact project manager at The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals Stine Müller on sm@fbr.dk.

How we tested

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has tested the content of fluorinated substances in the cardboard or paper from 21 cakes. The type of cakes tested included muffins, mazarine cakes, roulades, cinnamon rolls, etc.

The packaging material was tested in a laboratory by measuring the total organic fluorine (TOF) content after burning the material. The combustion causes all the organic fluor to be converted into so-called hydrogen fluoride, which can then be quantified. The Danish authorities’ indicator value is based on this method.

High levels of total organic fluorine indicate that fluorinated substances have been added to the packaging material.

What did we find?
3 out of the 21 cakes had a concentration of total organic fluorine in the paper between 98 and 1350 micrograms per square decimeter.

The former guidance value was 0.35 micrograms total organic fluorine per square centimeter of cardboard or paper.

In May 2018 the guidance value was substituted by an indicator value around 30 times higher, 10 micrograms total organic fluorine per square centimeter.

The remaining 18 cakes had a content of total organic fluorine in the paper between 0.7 and 13.1 micrograms fluor per square decimeter.

These levels do not indicate the use of fluorinated substances as surface treatment. However fluorinated substances are not only used as water- and grease repellent treatment but can also occur in ink or as contaminants in recycled paper. Therefore for some of these samples it cannot entirely be ruled out that fluorinated substances can have been added during the production e.g. together with the printing inks.

Fluorinated substances
Fluorinated substances are a large group of compounds.

You can find fluorinated substances in e.g.:

  • Packaging of cardboard and paper for food.
  • Clothes and textiles that are rain and dirt repellent.
  • Impregnation for clothing and shoes.
  • Personal care products.

Fluorinated substances are problematic for both health and the environment.

The substances do not degrade and can accumulate in humans and animals. They can be transferred from mother to child via breast milk.

Several of the compounds are suspected to be carcinogens, hormone disruptors and can affect the immune system. Danish research has also shown that high content of fluorinated substances in the blood in pregnant women can increase the risk of spontaneous abortion.

For many of the fluorinated substances limited scientific knowledge exists. But overall, the fluorinated substances as a group are unwanted. This is also the reason why the indicator value from the Danish authorities refers to the total content of organic fluorine and not only a limited number of known single substances.

Migration to food
This test measured the content of fluorinated substances in the packaging material, and not directly in the cakes. However, it has previously been shown that fluorinated substances can migrate to food.

Fat content and temperature are parameters that can influence the level of migration from the material to the food. The risk of migration of fluorinated substances increases in contact with hot, fatty food for example French fries or cakes baked in paper.

What the companies say

Pågen A / S, which is a Swedish company, states that they have decided to stop selling the product on the Danish market.

Aldi, responsible for Trader Joes minimuffins, states that their own investigations, carried out after they were informed about the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals test, show that the supplier uses fluorinated substances despite documentation of the opposite. As this is against Aldi's guidelines Aldi has chosen to withdraw the product from the shelves.

7-Eleven has chosen to find a new and better packaging without fluorinated substances for their cakes.