Toxic: A chemical used in the packaging of supermarket food can seep through and contaminate meat and vegetables, according to a study (posed by model)

Supermarket food is at risk of being contaminated by a 'highly toxic' chemical found in the glue of packaging labels.

The chemical, which is in the same class of toxicity as mercury, asbestos and hydrochloric acid, can seep through and contaminate food, according to a study.

It has been found in high levels on some of the sticky labels attached to packages of fresh meat, vegetables and tubs of sauce.

It could pose a 'particularly severe risk to health' as highly toxic chemicals can cause organ failure and even death in high doses.

The study follows previous research that found chemicals in a wide range of products that may cause infertility in women, cancer, immune system disorders and even neurological problems.

Strict EU safety regulations mean that certain materials can not come into direct contact with food, but there are no rules about the chemicals in label adhesives.

The study, published today in the Royal Society of Chemistry's 'Journal of Materials Chemistry', showed that toxic compounds on four label glues can seep through paper and plastic packaging and contaminate the food inside.

The researchers from the University of Zaragoza, Spain studied four different acrylic adhesives commonly used on food labels.

They examined in detail 11 compounds found in the glues, four of which seeped through the packaging.

Three of these had low toxicity while the remaining compound belonged to the highest risk category.

Valerie Guillard, an expert in food technology and packaging at the University of Montpellier, France, said:
'This work brings significant breakthroughs in the study of compliance with regulations of food-contact materials.'
She believes the study shows 'migration of adhesive compounds is possible at a level that could raise safety concerns.'

The Food Standards Agency said the findings highlighted 'a potential area of further research'.

But a spokesman said: 'Our own research has found that although several chemical substances are present in adhesives, the potential for them to migrate into food is very low.'