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Food companies put on notice to comply with Maine's phthalates ban

The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, prohibits the chemicals in food packaging.

MAINE, USA — Maine environmental regulators are putting several major food manufacturers on notice that they have until July 1 to be in compliance with Maine's ban on chemicals known as phthalates. The ban recently went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year.

Federal studies show exposure to the chemicals is linked to concerning health effects, especially in young children.

The cease and desist letters come after tests showed the harmful compounds were in a number of products on Maine grocery shelves.

Officials at the Department of Environmental Protection tell NEWS CENTER Maine that the agency has sent letters to three different food manufacturing companies. The warnings come after evidence shows they distributed and sold products violating Maine's ban on phthalates in food packaging. 

"The Department issued letters to 3 companies notifying them that evidence was provided to the Department that they distributed and offered for sale products that violated Maine’s prohibition on phthalates in food packaging," DEP Deputy Commissioner David Madore said in a statement.

Goya Foods, Inc., Constellation Brands, Inc., and Ahold Delhaize, the parent company of Hannaford Supermarkets, are being singled out after tests from two different labs found phthalates in products from sofrito sauce, soda, and Corona Extra beer. 

Madore shared the context of the letters with NEWS CENTER Maine in the following statement: 

"The Department is notifying the 3 companies, and all others, that any food packaging containing phthalates must no longer be offered for sale by July 1, 2022. Noncompliant products must be removed from stores. The Department is requesting that the 3 companies provide certificates of compliance to the Department certifying all their products distributed in Maine are compliant or identifying which non-compliant products will be removed from sale and distribution in Maine."

"The vast majority of products are already in compliance, it's really about the laggers who are not following Maine's law," Deputy Director of Defend Our Health Patrick MacRoy explained.

The non-profit environmental advocacy organization, Defend Our Health, collected the samples and helped draft the phthalate ban that was signed into law in 2019.

RELATED: New Maine law targets chemicals in food packaging

Commonly used to make plastic less rigid and more pliable in food processing equipment, phthalates can leach into products such as mac-n-cheese, snacks, frozen pizza, and baked goods. 

The chemicals are also in the lining of jar lids and metal bottle caps. Federal studies have found the chemicals can disrupt hormone production, with pregnant women and developing babies at a higher risk for health problems. 

Last month, the FDA rejected two petitions from a group of public health, food safety, and environmental organizations urging the agency to prohibit the use of phthalates. 

Katherine O'Brien is a Maine-based attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization filed the original petition 6 years ago. 

"They said they may take a new look at the safety of those uses in the future, but there is no timeline for that process," O'Brien explained. 

O'Brien says the nonprofit could challenge the FDA's decision in court. 

"It's really just a matter of corporations that own these big brands, taking responsibility and start making the change," MacRoy said.

Madore tells NEWS CENTER Maine that Goya Foods, Inc. has pledged to no longer distribute food packaging containing phthalates after July 1. 

Maggie Bowman, the vice president for Constellation Brands, Inc. Beer Division, issued the following statement:

"CBI fully complies with all applicable laws and regulations, and we take the health and safety of our consumers very seriously. In accordance with this new law, we will have eliminated phthalates from our bottle caps in line with the July 1st deadline and expect those updated packages to flow into the market shortly."

"We have looked into this and I can confirm we are in compliance and currently in the process of providing documentation," Elvira Bos, the director of media and external relations for Ahold Delhaize, told NEWS CENTER Maine.    

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