Food Contact Materials and Gut Health: Implications for Toxicity Assessment and Relevance of High Molecular Weight Migrants

Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Nov;109(Pt 1):1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2017.08.023. Epub 2017 Aug 19.


Gut health is determined by an intact epithelial barrier and balanced gut microbiota, both involved in the regulation of immune responses in the gut. Disruption of this system contributes to the etiology of various non-communicable diseases, including intestinal, metabolic, and autoimmune disorders. Studies suggest that some direct food additives, but also some food contaminants, such as pesticide residues and substances migrating from food contact materials (FCMs), may adversely affect the gut barrier or gut microbiota. Here, we focus on gut-related effects of FCM-relevant substances (e.g. surfactants, N-ring containing substances, nanoparticles, and antimicrobials) and show that gut health is an underappreciated target in the toxicity assessment of FCMs. Understanding FCMs' impact on gut health requires more attention to ensure safety and prevent gut-related chronic diseases. Our review further points to the existence of large population subgroups with an increased intestinal permeability; this may lead to higher uptake of compounds of not only low (<1000 Da) but also high (>1000 Da) molecular weight. We discuss the potential toxicological relevance of high molecular weight compounds in the gut and suggest that the scientific justification for the application of a molecular weight-based cut-off in risk assessment of FCMs should be reevaluated.

Keywords: Gut microbiota; Immune system; Intestinal permeability; Nanoparticle; Polymer; Surfactant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Infective Agents / toxicity*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Weight
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry
  • Surface-Active Agents / toxicity*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Surface-Active Agents