Irradiation of prepackaged food causes chemical and physical changes in plastic packaging materials. The effects of ionizing radiation on these materials have been studied for almost 40 years; the respective literature is reviewed to provide the basis for a safety evaluation of plastics for use in food irradiation. Permeability of plastic films is generally not affected; deterioration of mechanical properties, that may occur with certain polymers, can usually be controlled with adequate stabilizers; and changes in infrared and UV/VIS spectra are slight at food irradiation doses. Gaseous radiolysis products include hydrogen, methane, CO2, CO, hydrocarbons, and for chlorine-containing polymers, hydrogen chloride. A range of volatile products, mainly hydrocarbons, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and carboxylic acids, has been characterized for low density polyethylene and polypropylene, other important materials, e.g., polystyrene and poly(vinyl chloride), are less well-investigated. Comparatively little is known on the effect of irradiation on multilayer structures. Radiation-induced changes are shown to depend on the chemical structure of the polymer, on the composition (additives) and processing history of the plastic, and on the irradiation conditions.

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