Bacteria on your paper cups, tissues and pizza boxes?

  • The source of bacteria has been identified in agro-residues present in the raw material of paper cups, tissues, pizza boxes, etc
  • IIT Roorkee conducted the study after collecting random samples from popular confectioners and fast food restaurants

NEW DELHI : Breaking the preconceived notion that disposable cups, plates and boxes made of paper are safe and hygienic, a research funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has revealed that food packaging made of paper pulp may be laced with hazardous bacteria.

The comprehensive research done by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, found the presence of bacteria in all the samples collected randomly from popular confectioners and fast food restaurants, ranging from 1.3 × 102 to 6.1 × 103 cfu/g. Most of the samples contained bacteria in more than the permitted concentration of 2.5 × 102 cfu/g as set by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Over 10 samples were tested that included paper plate, cake box, fruit tray, tissue paper, coffee cup, pastry box, sweet box, pizza box, French fries box, and paper bag.

According to the findings of this research published in the Food and Nutrition Sciences Journal this week, the detected bacteria were from genera Bacillacea, Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas. According to the FDA declaration, pathogenic bacteria such as B. cereus and S. aureus have been associated with food borne diseases.

Since many years, the food packaging industry has been using disposable paper based materials such as boxes, bags, cups, containers, plates, sacks, and tissue paper. The research has highlighted that the food packaging industry generally uses papers and paperboards (PPBs) especially for disposable products. According to the Framework Regulation of the European Union, no transfer of contamination should occur from food packaging material to the food items.

The study found some contaminants in food packaging PPBs were found to be B. subtilis and P. aeroginosa, which produce enzymes like peroxidases and lipoxygenases that are odor generating enzymes.

The researchers have warned that it is essential to monitor the level of bacterial exposure to consumers through food PPBs, especially when the food comes in contact with the packages. “The results inferred by the present study give an idea about the number and type of bacteria present in the Indian food PPBs that may cause health hazards, generate odors, etc," Chhaya Sharma, Associate Professor, Department of Paper Technology, IIT Roorkee, Saharanpur Campus, said in the study.

According to the report, the source of bacteria Bacillus and Pseudomonas has been identified in agro-residues present in the raw material. The percentage of other pulp fibers like softwood mechanical pulp, softwood chemical pulp, and hardwood chemical pulp in the samples has also been determined.

“The maximum percentage of agro-residues, softwood mechanical pulp, softwood chemical pulp and hardwood chemical pulp was present in cake box, pizza box, coffee cup and tissue paper respectively, while the minimum of of agro-residues, softwood mechanical pulp, softwood chemical pulp and hardwood chemical pulp was present in coffee cup, paper plate, french fries box and paper bag respectively," said Sharma in the study.