In contact for food safety

Materials World magazine
1 Aug 2008

This May saw the adoption of The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2008. Dr Alistair Irvine, Principle Consultant in Food Packaging Safety at Pira International, in Leatherhead, UK, guides us through the changes.

Navigating through constant amendments and consultations of European regulations is increasingly challenging for the packaging industry. The latest addition to the portfolio is the implementation of The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2008, with parallel rules in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Through the legislation, the UK has implemented EC (European Commission) Directive 2007/19/EC, which amends the EC Plastics in Contact with Foodstuffs Legislation (EC Directive 2002/72/EC).

Declaration of Compliance

Most significantly, the new regulation requires a Declaration of Compliance to accompany all food contact plastics. This aims to help packaging manufacturers and users prove the packaging adheres to the legislation.

For a raw material supplier, the Declaration needs to contain enough information to demonstrate to packaging manufacturers that the materials are approved for use in food contact plastics. It should let them know if there are any additives or monomers present that are subject to specific migration limits so that the ‘finished article’ can be checked.

The Declaration provided by the packaging manufacturer can be briefer, but still needs to reassure customers that the finished goods comply with the legislation.

Plastics packaging manufacturers should ask their suppliers of plastics, additives and masterbatches for Declarations of Compliance in line with this regulation, check for restricted substances and ensure they meet these limits.

There are several laboratories that can help with these analyses. Testing is normally carried out using chromatographic techniques, requiring laboratory skills and food contact experience.

Gaskets in metal lids

In the past, it was unclear whether plastics used in gaskets in metal lids were subject to the same regulation as other food contact plastics. The new egislation stipulates that gaskets are to be treated in the same way and subject to the authorisation processes for monomers and additives, together with any migration limits that apply.

Additionally, some restrictions on plasticisers that are widely used in these gaskets have been modified. Epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) now has a tighter specific migration limit when it is in contact with foods intended solely for children.

Other changes

The regulation contains a number of other changes:

Additions and amendments to the list of approved monomers and additives which can be used in food contact plastics by cross-referencing EC Directive 2007/19/EC.

Acceptance of the functional barrier concept and guidance on how to show that a barrier layer prevents migration. This will help promote the use of simply cleaned recycled materials in non-food contact layers of food packs.

A fat consumption factor for checking migration of fat-soluble additives into foods and a listing of these additives.

A new food simulant (50% ethanol) to simulate migration into milk and similar foods.

A requirement to declare the use of ‘dual use’ plastics additives.

On the agenda

The EC has already published another amendment to the legislation – EC Directive 2008/39/EC. This will be implemented in the UK over the next year and sets a timetable for establishing a ‘positive list’ for additives in food contact plastics.

Until recently, it has not been mandatory for additives to be listed, provided they were approved in one of the EU member states. After 1 January 2010, all such additives must be on the positive list. Food packaging manufacturers need to ask their suppliers to confirm their additives are on the provisional list, and, if necessary, switch materials before 2010.

Other hot topics are recycled plastics and the safety of printing inks. The EC has published a regulation on the use of recycled plastics – EC Regulation 282/2008 – that allows the European Food Safety Authority to authorise recycling processes and stimulate the use of these materials.

While for printing inks, some general principles have been introduced by the EC Good Manufacturing Practice Regulation (EC Regulation 2023/2006), these do not contain a framework for risk assessment. Suitable methods are available from the Council of Europe and the European Printing Ink Association, but these have not been translated into formal legislation.

New challenges

The regulatory framework for food contact plastics is changing rapidly and can be difficult to keep up with. New technologies such as nanotechnology may go beyond conventional toxicology and pose new challenges. The jury is still out on this issue and it is not yet reflected in the legislation.