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Food Packaging & Other Substances that Come in Contact with Food - Information for Consumers

Food Packaging and Other Substances that Come into Contact with Food Information for Consumers

To learn about how the FDA regulates direct food additives, see Food Additives and GRAS Ingredients Information for Consumers.

A food contact substance is a substance that comes into contact with food and is not intended to have a technical effect in such food. This includes food packaging and its components, processing equipment, food preparation surfaces, or cookware. Other examples include substances that are added to or applied on packaging surfaces, such as adhesives, colorants, certain uses of antimicrobials, and antioxidants. Certain food contact substances are considered indirect food additives.

There are many different uses of food contact substances, including to:

  • prevent grease from leaking through paper or cardboard food packaging
  • prevent discoloring from repeated use of repeat use plastic containers
  • make cookware non-stick
  • adhere stickers to produce

Under federal law, a food contact substance that is a food additive must be authorized for that use before it is marketed in the U.S. Such authorization is usually obtained by submitting information to FDA through a food contact notification.  As part of this process, the FDA conducts a rigorous scientific safety assessment of information submitted to the agency, and considers other relevant information available, to ensure that the intended use is safe. This process includes analyzing testing data that demonstrates the amount of migration of a food contact substance to food because of its intended use, and toxicological data to ensure that the consumer exposure resulting from this migration is safe. The FDA also reviews data submitted under the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure that the use of the food contact substance does not have a significant impact on the environment.

The FDA maintains a public inventory of all the uses of food contact substances authorized through the FDA’s Food Contact Notification program. More information about our food contact substances authorizations is available on our Determining the Regulatory Status of Components of a Food Contact Material page.

Learn more about how the FDA regulates food contact substances on Understanding How the FDA Regulates Substances that Come into Contact with Food.

Our Review of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging

In addition to pre-market review, the FDA also provides our scientific opinion on the use of recycled polymeric food contact materials. Through a voluntary program, the FDA reviews recycling processes to ensure that the recycled material is suitable for use in food contact applications. When we find that the information provided demonstrates the recycled material is safe for food contact use, the FDA issues a favorable opinion letter. More information about the FDA’s review of recycling processes and our database of favorable opinion letters is available on our Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging page.

The FDA has web pages about food contact substances of interest:

For More Information:

Food Additives, GRAS Ingredients, and Color Additives:

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