It's very common in India to see newspapers being used to absorb oils from oily snacks, or simply for temporary food packaging. Some articles say that covering food items in newspaper is a health risk. They also mention that using newspapers for these purposes are strictly disallowed. For example:

  • Eating food wrapped in newspapers can cause cancer!
    • Newspapers and cardboard boxes used for packaged foods are made of recycled paper that may be contaminated with harmful chemicals like diisobutyl phthalate and di-n-butyl phthalate which can cause digestive problems and also lead to severe toxicity.
    • Recycled paper also has printing ink residues trapped from previous prints. These trapped residues have found to contain hormone disruptors like benzophenones and mineral oils.
  • Dangers of eating newsprint

    Canned food and drinks, newspapers used for packing food, cosmetics like eye makeup, hair dye, sindhoor, lead-based paints, ceramic glazes, industrial emissions, exposure at battery units, diety-making units, and tea are all potent media for lead poisoning.

  • Healthy eating : Watch out for poisonous packaging

    Exposure to a class of organic chemicals called arylamines, such as benzidine, 2-Naphthylamine and 4-Aminobiphenyl, is associated with high risks of bladder and lung cancer. Apart from these, printing inks also contain colorants, pigments, binders, additives and photo-initiators (used for speeding up the drying process of the ink), which have harmful effects.

I am highly inclined to believe these articles and therefore I strongly advise against using newspapers as absorbent paper and packaging paper.

But I read some articles that say that the West has now implemented strict regulations and therefore modern newspaper inks are safe.

So I've come here to clear my confusion. Are they safe now?

  • What chemicals do modern newsprint and the ink contain exactly?
  • Are they still toxic?
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    $\begingroup$ Modern newspaper inks are probably less harmful than they used to be in the olden days, but they are still not quite "food-grade". $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think it should be okay if it has soy ink. But don't think small Indian newspaper companies uses that! $\endgroup$
    – Freddy
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ This appears to be asking for personal medical advice. I find it unlikely that your local food and drug administration would approve of commercial packaging of food products in random newspapers, so the regulatory answer would be no... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster I'm only asking out of curiosity. I recently had an argument with my sister and I told her not to use the newspaper for placing oily snacks. She said "there's no visible ink spread so don't worry and modern paper ink is safe". So I could use a definitive answer here explaining to her why I was right/wrong. We do not sell food, nor package it with paper on a daily basis, I'm an engineer, and she's a medical student, FYI :) $\endgroup$
    – NVZ
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question is fine here. This article - although not India - is related. articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-11-11/news/… The best approach might well be to contact one of the newspaper companies and ask them about what ink they use. $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2016 at 10:51

4 Answers 4


Before anybody may wrap some food in a newspaper, it needs to be printed.

Given that workers in print shops are the first that are exposed to potentially dangerous compounds, this is a matter occupational safety their national regulations.

In Germany, the BG ETEM provides an extensive exclusion list for inks and solvents. Compounds covered by this list are not be be used!

In order to avoid an endless recital of compound names or CAS numbers, the exclusion list is based of GHS hazard statements and includes (among others):

  • materials with CMR properties:
    H340, H341, H350, H350i, H351, H360, H360F, H360D, H360FD, H360Fd, H360Df

  • materials with specific organ toxicity, acute toxicity and other health risks:
    H370, H372, H300, H310, H330, H301, H311, H331, EUH 029, EUH 031, EUH 032


Does this mean that German newspaper are safe for handle in production and daily use? Yes, unless printing houses violate existing regulations.

Is the same true for Indian newspapers? I have no idea, since I am not familiar with the legal situation in India.


Consider not only the carrier or "vehicle" as it is termed in the industry (soybean oil or petroleum distillate or derivative) but the pigments themselves. A bit of Web digging will provide the reader with ample information about the toxicity of some of these pigments.

  • Oily food would be expected to pick up much more pigment from newsprint than non-oily food such as green leafy vegetables.
  • In the US and elsewhere, many produce items such as tomatoes and apples are coated with edible wax to extend shelf life. These products would best be placed in the oily food category.

One issue is that in much of the Third World newsprint is used by street vendors as a low cost or zero cost container for produce. If one vendor decided to use safe packaging and had to absorb the cost in order to remain competitive with other vendors using newspaper, such a vendor would struggle or even be out of business within a short time.

A broader view of the issue should include the use of recycled paper for food containers. The category includes bags, sheet wrap, uncoated trays, bowls and cups, even napkins. Although the areas of containers made from recycled paper in direct contact with food do not have inked surfaces, the paper itself contains residual amounts of inks. In addition, source material used for the manufacture of recycled paper earmarked for the food industry may include heavily inked magazine paper, inkjet and laser printed paper. I once inquired about the destruction process of the floppy diskette of yesteryear by a paper shredding service which offers such. Apparently, one or two individual diskettes on occasion are acceptable in the recycled paper stream. It is likely that other contaminants make their way into the paper.

The recycled paper industry depends greatly on the food container end use. I do not wish to damage this industry in any way; in fact, I would like to give it all of my encouragement. However, from a food safety standpoint I am raising issues that have been on my mind for quite some time. As a complete outsider to the industry, and one who has not looked into readily available information very much, I would have to admit I know little about the actual recycling process including source separation, purification or cleanup of the paper source for the food industry, as well as other process and product features.

Nevertheless I would like to see the availability of virgin paper, made in dedicated lines in one or more paper mills, for paper products for the food industry. Paper product manufacturers and vendors or retailers could offer virgin paper in their product lineup either as a more expensive alternative to recycled paper or as lower cost alternative, depending on the marketing situation. In the past, recycled paper was a buzzword and an expensive alternative. The situation may now be regarded differently, with a virtually pure, even USDA Organic, source of virgin paper for food packaging products, especially products such as bowls and trays in direct contact with prepared food. Instead of damage to the paper industry, the idea of pure virgin paper may represent a marketing opportunity in a new direction.

The use of newsprint for wrapping produce will not kill you immediately but would be expected to place undue stress on the liver and other organs and tissues in the body involved with the detoxification process. Nevertheless, many individuals live healthy lives to great ages despite lifelong exposure to newsprint. The entire picture is complex and enters the area of individual outcome, outside of the scope of this discussion. However, health problems in general should be incrementally lower over the long run, enough to counter the higher cost of virgin paper in terms of reduced medical costs, but government involvement may be needed in certain countries and in certain situations (see second paragraph below).

An associated issue is the use of BPA (Bisphenol A) as a colorant binder on thermal print paper. In the food retail industries (stores and restaurants) receipt paper is almost exclusively thermal. It is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to BPA, an endocrine disrupter and carcinogen, as it is absorbed directly into the skin within seconds upon handling receipts as well as released into the air as dust from the flexing and bending action of the receipts. Additional exposure is gained upon handling food after handling a receipt without washing hands.

Credit should be given to the supermarket chains that have switched to using BPA-free receipt paper; a question remains regarding the safety of the substitute for BPA. A switching back to the more labor intensive dot matrix printers used a generation ago would likely improve collective health enough to "pay" for itself over the long run. The issue of switching back, however, is the same as the issue described above of the use of newsprint to contain food. The vendor(s) offering the older, healthier alternative place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This situation is precisely where government may need to step in with either regulation (or enforcement of existing regulation) or recommendation such as direct government-paid advertising. Another avenue to government involvement is a "seal" of approval; a widely used example is the USDA Organic symbol which may in fact be used as a marketing tool.

Custom printed perishable food package labels are typically made of thermal paper stock. Examples are self-stick labels showing "Sell Before" date, prices and other information on packages of produce, meat and take-out prepared food. Another major source of BPA is the lining material used in cans. A number of manufacturers and brands have made the switch to BPA-free cans.


Regardless of whether the newspaper uses the newer, safer inks or older, toxic ones, isn't wrapping food in newspaper something of a food safety risk? For one thing, newspaper isn't designed for food packaging and so it would not be subject to the same standards of 'cleanliness' or hygiene (can't think of a better word) as plastic takeaway containers, for example. During the manufacturing process and delivery, the newspaper could be exposed to many germs. Secondly, since newspaper is quite thin and porous, pathogens could easily pass through the newspaper wrapping and into the food. I would argue that the immediate risk of illness from a bacterial or viral infection from unsafe food handling methods is just as worrying as the potential cumulative effect of the dyes in the paper.


Until perhaps the 1980s printed newspapers used lead type which was set in sheets -- some lead would get onto the paper this way while the ink itself while perhaps toxic did not contain lead. However, the colored comics in the USA used lead in the ink itself. I think lead has been eliminated from newspapers since that time in the USA; I don't know about India. But newspapers are probably still not the great of a thing to use in food handling.

Somewhat related is a woman came to a doctor complaining of various symptoms which suggested that she might have mercury poisoning and she indeed had high levels. She confessed to eating compulsively the pages of books and it turned out that logs or wood pulp which eventually became paper was treated with mercury to prevent growth of fungus. This not only contributed to mercury in rivers and oceans but also some mercury remained in paper and that is how she managed to poison herself.

I do not believe that mercury is still used as a fungicide but I have wondered if recycled paper, which may end up in paper napkins and plates, has various toxic metals that come from recycling color-printed packaging, for example into paper products that come into contact with food or human hands while humans are eating.


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