Update on the Safety of Polystyrene Foodservice Packaging and California’s Proposition 65

Below you will find information on a proposal by a California agency that relates to the substance styrene—the primary building block of polystyrene, a common type of plastic—as well as links to information about the safety of polystyrene foodservice products.

Safety of Polystyrene Foodservice Packaging

Polystyrene has been used in foodservice products—foam coffee cups, salad bar takeout containers, hot noodle cups and more—for more than five decades. Polystyrene has been reviewed by regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that have deemed it safe for use in contact with food. Public health officials also have recognized the important sanitary benefits of these disposable foodservice products, particularly in settings such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, cafeterias and restaurants where it is critical that the foodservice ware in contact with food be clean and hygienic.

“Prop 65” Listing of Styrene Not Based on New Safety Information

Proposition 65 is a California law passed in 1986 that requires the state to create a list of substances that have certain toxicological profiles. The “Prop 65” list contains nearly 900 substances, many of which you will recognize, that are used safely every day, such as aspirin and caffeine. The mere fact that substances appear on the list is not a determination of their safety, and it does not mean that normal everyday exposure to these substances will lead to health problems.

California added the substance styrene on April 22, 2016. The agency did not base this listing on any new scientific findings on styrene. Styrene has undergone decades of scientific review, and it is not categorized as a known human carcinogen by any regulatory or scientific review agency anywhere in the world.

Rather, California agency officials listed styrene based on actions by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that in 2011 identified styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Although styrene is used to make polystyrene, it is important to distinguish between the two. “Styrene should not be confused with polystyrene (styrofoam)*. Although styrene, a liquid, is used to make polystyrene, which is a solid plastic, we do not believe that people are at risk from using polystyrene products.” (The U.S. National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in June 2011).

Indeed, the agency that listed styrene “agrees that styrene is not the same as polystyrene and points out that polystyrene is not the subject of the proposed listing.” The agency also notes: “Food contact materials [such as polystyrene] meeting FDA’s standards are considered safe for food use.”

FDA Reconfirms Safety of Polystyrene Foodservice Packaging

In light of the 2011 NTP actions, FDA scientists once again reviewed the safety of polystyrene and published an update in 2014 that reconfirmed the safety of polystyrene for use in contact with food.

Consumers can continue to feel confident that their use of polystyrene foodservice packaging is based not only on decades of scientific research but also on the safety approvals of FDA and other agencies charged with the safety of food packaging.

Click here for a more detailed exploration of this topic.

For more information:

* Original quote used the term “Styrofoam”. STYROFOAM™ is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company that represents its branded building material products, including rigid foam and structural insulated sheathing and more. The brand name often is misused as a generic term for polystyrene foam foodservice packaging.


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