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Frequently Asked Questions about PET bottles
FAQ, 10 Sebtember 2007
PET is the abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic used in the manufacture of beverage bottles and food packaging. Normally, the plastic used to make the beverage bottle is stated on the label. You will either see the abbreviation “PET” or a triangular arrow symbol around the number 1 on PET bottles.
Consumers frequently ask BfR whether PET plastic bottles constitute a health hazard. BfR responds here to the most frequently asked questions about PET bottles.
- Mineral water in PET bottles sometimes has a sweet-fruity taste. What does that mean?
- Is acetaldehyde in beverages harmful?
- Do consumers have to accept an acetaldehyde taste when they want to drink mineral water from PET bottles?
- Do PET bottles contain plasticisers?
- Do PET bottles contain bisphenol A?
- Why can antimony be detected in beverages in PET bottles? How does antimony affect human beings?
The substance acetaldehyde is formed during the production and storage of PET bottles. When acetaldehyde migrates from the bottle into the beverage, even very small amounts can be tasted and smelt - at least in mineral water. In beverages with a more intense flavour like Cola or other soft drinks, consumers don’t notice acetaldehyde.
According to the legal provisions applicable in the EU, a maximum of 6 mg acetaldehyde may migrate from plastics to 1 kg food. Adverse health effects can be ruled out up to this limit value. However, people can already clearly smell or taste this substance in less than one-hundredth of this amount. Even if consumers smell or taste acetaldehyde, there is nevertheless no health risk as the amount is normally far lower than the limit value.
Do consumers have to accept an acetaldehyde taste when they want to drink mineral water from PET bottles?
Even if there is no health risk to consumers from small amounts of acetaldehyde, a change in taste or smell is not desirable; nor is it allowed according to the valid provisions. Manufacturers are, therefore, called on to prevent the migration of acetaldehyde. To this end, substances may, for instance, be used which bind the acetaldehyde in the PET, which do not themselves cause any health risks or sensory impairment. Another option is to give the bottles a glass-like inner lining which prevents the acetaldehyde from migrating to the beverage.
When consumers hear the plastic name “polyethylene terephthalate” they often think of phtalates which are used as plasticizers and crop up in public discussions again and again. However, phthalates and other plasticizers are not needed to manufacture PET bottles.
Bisphenol A belongs to a group of substances which have a hormone-like (oestrogen) effect. This substance may be contained in plastic objects including objects that come into contact with food. Some examples are baby bottles, beakers, plastic cutlery or the inner lining of cans. However, PET bottles do not contain bisphenol A.
Some time ago there were reports in the press about the study findings of the Institute for Environmental Geochemistry at Heidelberg University on the presence of antimony in PET beverage bottles. Antimony compounds are used as a catalyst in PET production.
BfR has assessed the study findings of the Heidelberg scientists and is of the opinion that no risks to human health are to be expected because the antimony levels measured are two orders of magnitude below the migration limit value for antimony. The migration limit value has been set by the European Food Safety Authority.