The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has alerted businesses that they should not sell plastic food contact materials (FCMs) containing bamboo and other plant-based materials, and have put out a call for evidence related to their safety and stability.

Bamboo and other plant-based materials such as rice husks, hemp, wheat straw, and other materials have not had their safety assessed in plastic, nor have they been authorized under retained (EU) Regulation 10/2011 for use in plastic FCMs. Until the products have been fully assessed and authorized, FSA will not allow them to remain on the market. Plastic food contact materials containing bamboo fiber and other plant-based materials also must not be placed on the market in Northern Ireland as they are not in compliance with Commission Regulation (EU) 10/2011.

FSA’s advice does not apply to items made solely from bamboo or plant-based materials, only products that use a combination of plastic and plant filler. Retailers are being asked to check that any bamboo or similar plant-based products remaining on sale do not contain plastic components and to ensure that they meet the applicable national regulations.

In 2022, the UK’s independent scientific advisory body, the Committee on Toxicity (COT), carried out a review of available data on plastic composites containing bamboo. COT published an interim position paper on bamboo composites in FCMs that concluded, based upon current knowledge, the migration of formaldehyde and melamine from bamboo composite cups can be regarded as a potential concern to human health. Therefore, COT deemed appropriate a more comprehensive risk assessment once further data on composition, exposure, and other factors becomes available.

Based on COT’s findings, FSA is advising consumers not to use and businesses not to sell FCMs containing bamboo or other plant-based materials, and have launched a call for data on their safety. Specifically, through the call for evidence, FSA hopes to receive information from industry on:

  • Any available information or data on the safety assessment of relevant products, including toxicological testing and relevant toxicological data
  • Any testing that has been carried out that informs the safety and stability of plastic composites in its proposed use (any products containing plastic are required to be accompanied by a declaration of compliance)
  • Sourcing and specifications of the plant-based material used in the plastic, such as the details of any exporter assurance schemes
  • The final product’s full list of ingredients (including ratios or percentages) and specification, which will be used to inform a risk assessment on how various factors affect an article’s safety and stability in expected use
  • The manufacturing process of the materials, which there is some evidence to show has a strong influence on the durability of the final product
  • Any other pertinent information or issues concerning the products.

The call for evidence closes December 12, 2023.

In its warning about plastic FCMs containing bamboo and similar materials, FSA warned against using the utensils or containers for acidic foods and drinks, as well as microwaving the articles, to avoid the release of elevated amounts of harmful chemicals. Commonly identified products made using the relevant materials include reusable drinking cups, tableware and cutlery, lunchboxes, and chopping boards. Additional products include plates, bowls, and cups, including some specifically marketed as crockery sets to infants and children.