Cooking utensils, such as pots, pans and menu trays, are often made from aluminium because it is lightweight and conducts heat well, making it energy-efficient for heating and cooling. These properties also make it a preferred material for packaging.
Aluminium foil is widely used for packaging, as well as wrapping and storing food, as it is light and flexible. It also keeps out micro-organisms, air and light to preserve better the contents and to extend their shelf-life.
The amount of aluminium that migrates into foods from aluminium pots, foil and cans is negligible. Higher amounts result from cooking or storing salty or highly acidic foods (such as tomatoes or citrus) for a long time in aluminium containers, but it is easy for the consumer who wishes to do so to reduce these amounts.
Very little of the aluminium that we ingest from foods and food contact materials is absorbed by the body.
Reliable scientific studies show that only a small amount of the total amount of aluminium that is taken in through food and water is absorbed by the digestive tract. Most is quickly filtered out by the kidneys and eliminated from the body.
The amount of aluminium that the average person takes in from food each day is only a small fraction of the safe levels recommended by international health institutions.
For example, although the recommended safe limit for an adult weighing 80 kilos (175 pounds) is approximately 23 milligrams a day, the average adult actually takes in much less – about 2 to 10 milligrams. Only a very small portion of this comes from cookware and foil used in food preparation.
Because so little of the aluminium that most people ingest is absorbed, very little aluminium accumulates in tissues and organs in the body.
Aluminium is not considered to be a carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent), and is not believed to cause Alzheimer’s Disease because, contrary to some myths, aluminium does not cause the changes in the brain that are associated with that disease.
Patients with kidney failure are at higher risk from aluminium, because their bodies can’t eliminate the aluminium they take in; however normal exposures to aluminium do not put healthy people at risk.
People who would like to further minimize the already small amount of aluminium that they get from food contact materials can limit their use with acidic and salty foods.
They can do this by avoiding heating, cooking or storing highly acidic or salty foods in aluminium cookware for long periods.
In Europe, a new Council of Europe Resolution on metals and alloys in contact with food will place labelling requirements on manufacturers of aluminium food contact materials, such as foil, for information purposes. In compliance with this Resolution, packages of aluminium foil will carry instructions on limiting the use of the product with acidic or salty foods.