Food safety and packaging
When packaging a product or a foodstuff, there are several important aspects to consider with respect to product and food safety. After all, products must be safe for consumers and producers bear some degree of responsibility for this.
Food packaging, which comes into direct contact with the product, must not present a risk to human health. This dossier deals with the food safety of such packaging. The KIDV has drawn up six fact sheets on this subject. Click on the links to go directly to the fact sheet.
The subjects of the fact sheets are:
- Mineral oils in packaging
- Bisphenol A in packaging
- Microplastics in packaging
- Heavy metals in packaging materials
- NIAS in packaging (non-intentionally added substances)
- Legislation on food contact materials
It is a fact that in practice certain substances migrate from packaging materials to foods. This is not prohibited, but the migration may not harm human health. For various packaging materials and specific chemical substances, the European Commission has drawn up guidelines for food contact materials and regulations for plastics (more under Legislation). They contain requirements and limits for the presence of potentially harmful substances. Based on research, it has been determined in which quantities a health hazard may arise. If the migration exceeds this determined amount, there is a possible health hazard.
The packaging material manufacturer is responsible for drawing up a Declaration of Compliance (DoC). This declaration indicates that the packaging material complies with European guidelines. The buyer of the packaging materials must verify this DoC and ensure that the conditions of use are corresponding to the intended use of the packaging material. Thus, both the producer and the buyer are responsible for controlling the potential food safety hazards that can be caused by migration.
The substances present in packaging materials can have different origins. They can be divided into two groups: intentionally and unintentionally added substances.
Intentionally added substances
Intentionally added substances are raw materials and additives that are intentionally used in the formulation of packaging materials. These substances ensure that the packaging material obtains the desired properties and is suitable for the intended use. They have a useful application in the material. Three examples of intentionally added substances are Melamine formaldehyde, Bisphenol A and Poly and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).
- Melamine formaldehyde is used as a building block in the production of melamine resin. This resin is used as a surface coating in cans, cardboard, jar lids and in the material of reusable plastic cups, plates and trays. A migration limit has been set for tableware made of melamine plastic in the European Plastic Regulation (EU) 10/2011. If the Melamine formaldehyde migrates above this limit, possible effects such as stomach irritation and stomach ulcers cannot be excluded.
- Bisphenol A is used as a starting material in, among other things, (epoxy) resins and polycarbonate plastics. A starting material is a substance that is converted to an end product. Bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastics, from which food containers are made, ensures that the plastic is transparent and can withstand high temperatures better than other types of plastic.
The KIDV has drawn up a fact sheet about the applications, possible risks and regulations regarding Bisphenol A in packaging.
- Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemical substances, some of which have high water and oil repellence. Because of these properties, they are used in packaging materials, including those that come into contact with foods. For example, popcorn bags, fast food packaging and pizza boxes.
A number of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances are known to have undesirable properties and can cause harmful effects for people and the environment. These are, for example, perfluoro octane sulfonates (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFO). When using poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances in materials that come into direct contact with food these substances can migrate into the food.
In the European Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011, migration limits have been established for various poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. Due to the risks, these substances may not migrate from the packaging material to the food above migration limits.
Update 30 June 2022
The Commodities Act Regulation on Packaging and Consumables contains a so-called positive list, which lists substances that may be used in packaging materials and consumables. As of 1 July 2022, the approval of certain substances with PFASs (PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS) as starting substances, contaminants or degradation products has been revoked. Four PFASs that were on the positive list for paper and board and coatings have been removed. The substances in question are the following:
- Ammonium bis(N-ethyl-2-perfluorooctane-sulphonamide-ethyl) phosphate, containing not more than 15% ammonium mono(N-ethyl-2-perfluorooctane-sulphonamide-ethyl) phosphate;
- copolymers of 2-(perfluoroctylsulfonylaminomethyl)ethyl methacrylate, 2,3 epoxypropyl methacrylate, ethoxyethyl acrylate and methacryloylmethylammonium chloride
- perfluoroalkyl (C6-C16)(C6-C18) phosphates of bis(2-hydroxyethyl)amine
- diethanolamine salts of mono- and bis(1H,1H,2H)perfluoroalkyl(C8-C18)phosphates.
The amendment took effect immediately on 1 July 2022, so existing stocks may not be sold off. The approval of the remaining PFASs in the Commodities Act regulation remains in place.
Non-intentionally added substances
Examples of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), are degradation products that arise during the production of packaging materials or contaminations from the raw material that are used. The KIDV fact sheet NIAS in packaging added substances' provides more information about this group of substances and its origin.
Examples of contamination from the raw material are heavy metals and mineral oils. Heavy metals occur as contaminants in the raw materials that are used and can thus be present in certain packaging materials. For more information, see the KIDV fact sheet heavy metals in packaging.
Contaminants from mineral oils arise from the use of recycled paper and cardboard. Printing ink and additives from for example, newspapers, decorative materials and thermal paper such as receipts end up in the packaging materials through recycling. The KIDV fact sheet Mineral oils in packaging provides more information about the origin, risks and established limits.
Substances of high concern
Various international treaties and legal frameworks set rules for substances that are of high concern in relation to human and the environment. The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has bundled these various substances in a list of substances of high concern. These are substances that are dangerous for humans and the environment because they are, for example, carcinogenic, impede reproduction or accumulate in the food chain. The aim of the RIVM is to keep these substances out of the living environment as much as possible. Substances of high concern can be either intentionally added substances or unintentionally added substances.
The risks of substances of high concern are assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) based on their harmful properties. This assessment does not specifically look at the risks in packaging materials, but more at the hazard of the substance as such. As a result, it is possible that certain substances that are included in the list of Substances of High Concern may been approved for use in packaging materials.
A specific migration limit is set during the evaluation of the substance by EFSA. If the amount of this substance present remains below this limit, it is considered safe. If the packaging materials meet the migration limits set in the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 and the Framework Regulation (EC) 1935/2004, the substance can be used in packaging.
Microplastics are increasingly in the news. The adverse effects of microplastics on nature have been known for some time. There are also concerns about microplastics in food, but there is no straightforward evidence (yet) that microplastics end up in food from packaging materials. Research has been performed on this; see for example ‘Microplastics generated when opening plastic packaging’ or ‘Microplastics from consumer plastic food containers: are we eating it?’
The KIDV factsheet Microplastics in packaging contains more information about the relationship between microplastics and packaging materials.
There is European legislation aimed to ensuring that packaging materials do not contain (or exceed maximum permitted amounts) harmful substances that are negative for public health. Legislation and regulations contain requirements regarding migration limits, production processes and documentation. The legislation also applies to sustainable or recycled packaging materials that come in contact with food.
The EU-legislation (EG) 1935/2004 refers to materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods. Article 3 sets out general requirements that apply to all food packaging materials. The so called GMP Regulation (EG) 2023/2006 contain requirements with regard to good manufacturing practices for materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods, which the producer of the packaging materials must comply with. In addition to these two regulations with general requirements, there are material-specific regulations. This includes, for example, requirements regarding intentionally added substances and non-intentionally added substances for specific materials.
In addition to European legislation, it is also possible that materials must comply with national legislation. There are in fact EU Member States that impose additional requirements on food packaging materials.
The level of legislation and elaboration differs per material type. For example, there is extensive European legislation for plastics, but very limited for paper and cardboard. The KIDV fact sheet Legislation on food contact materials provides more information about this.
Guidance documents for food packaging materials
In addition to the above series of fact sheets, the KIDV also offers two tools to support producers and importers of packaging and packaged products in assessing their packaging materials. The Suitability assessment for food packaging materials helps to determine whether the material is safe for its intended use and meets the legal requirements. The document Guidance in food packaging materials legislation helps to identify which European legislation applies to a specific material.
KIDV has drawn up the fact sheets and tools in cooperation with Riskplaza. Riskplaza is a database containing information about the food safety of ingredients, as well as measures for controlling food safety hazards.