Grapevine & Wine 31/08/2014

French wines and spirits contaminated by phthalates, according British research

The scientists reveal that the packaging of these drinks may be just as damaging. The use of phthalates is regulated on an international level and includes those likely to come into contact with food and drink packaging

Phthalate compounds are extremely widespread in our environment and are present in many plastics. Though the subject of much debate, the toxicity of phthalates varies depending on their chemical composition and some compounds are fairly unanimously considered to have a major potential as hormone disruptors.

The use of phthalates is regulated on an international level and includes those likely to come into contact with food and drink packaging. A study published in Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A analysed phthalate concentrations in a variety of French wines and spirits.

This research determines the concentrations of various phthalates in French wines and grape spirits marketed in Europe or intended for export. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) were the most frequently detected compounds in the wines analysed. While only 15% of the samples examined contained quantifiable concentrations (> 0.010 mg kg–1) of DEHP and BBP, 59% of the wines contained significant quantities of DBP, with a median value as high as 0.0587 mg kg–1. Only 17% of the samples did not contain any detectable quantity of at least one of the phthalates and 19% contained only non-quantifiable traces. In the spirits analysed, DBP (median = 0.105 mg kg–1) and DEHP (median = 0.353 mg kg–1) were the substances measured at the highest concentrations, as well as the most frequently detected (90% of samples). BBP was present in 40% of the samples at an average concentration of 0.026 mg kg–1. Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), which is not permitted in contact with food, was found in 25% of the spirits tested. According to the specific migration limits (SML) for materials in contact with food, slightly more than 11% of the wines analysed were non-compliant, as they exceeded the SML for DBP (0.3 mg kg–1); just under 4% were close to the SML for DEHP. Concerning spirits, 19% of the samples analysed were considered non-compliant to the SML for DBP and nearly 7% were close to the SML for DEHP. The aged grape spirits analysed were often excessively contaminated with DiBP, which is not permitted to be used in contact with food (> 0.01 mg kg–1).

The study also analysed a variety of materials frequently present in wineries and found that a large number of polymers often contained high quantities of phthalates. Indeed, some containers that are coated in epoxy resin proved to be a major source of contamination.

Analysis of the various materials frequently present in wineries revealed that quite a large number of polymers, sometimes containing large quantities of phthalates authorised for contact with food, could easily come into contact with wines and spirits. It is advisable to eliminate all materials containing these types of compounds from wineries. However, in view of the migration parameters of phthalates, epoxy coatings used in vats represent the major source of contamination in wines and spirits. Certain phthalates not permitted for contact with food, such as DMP and diBP, were also identified in the walls of polyester-and-glass-fibre vats and in some epoxy resins. It is, therefore, advisable for producers to analyse the coatings used in their vats, especially if they were applied over 10 years ago, to obtain a clear assessment of the contamination risks on their premises.
If the coating is contaminated, the vats concerned should no longer be used or the time the wine is kept in them should be reduced considerably. As spirits have higher ethanol content, they always extract phthalates trapped in materials more rapidly and extensively than wines. Contaminated coatings should be eliminated and the vats renovated with modern resins that do not contain undesirable phthalates.

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