Food Safety is a key topic for the packaging industry

Food Safety is a Key Topic for the Packaging Industry
As in previous years, food safety was a major topic throughout the packaging industry in 2016. Packaging businesses are facing increasingly tough challenges driven by a number of different factors such as technological advances in production and processing, growing numbers of complex products, and increasing awareness on the part of consumers and non-governmental organizations. The situation is compounded by the lack of clarity regarding limit values. To shed light on the subject, Henkel has compiled an overview with information on mineral oil and NIAS (non-intentionally added substances), the end of the transitional period granted in the Plastics Regulation, and new regulatory approaches.

Food safety has become a topic of central importance for the packaging industry. At Henkel, developers and analysts around the world have been working for many years on innovative solutions in adhesives and food safety. Over the years, the company has developed holistic, 360-degree expertise in this field.

Mineral oil and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS)
“Mineral oils dominated the debate on food safety in 2016. And there is no reason to believe that they will be any less relevant this year,” says Dr. Monika Tönnießen, Manager Product Safety and Regulatory Affairs at Henkel. “Concerning the migration of mineral oil constituents into food, there is no room for compromise when it comes to safety.” This position was amply confirmed by the participants at the regular Food Safety webinars held by Henkel.

No matter what packaging material components are concerned, migration of mineral oil constituents into the packaged foodstuff is possibility. The sources can be inks, recycled cardboard, plastic materials, coatings, waxed papers, jute bags, or adhesives. And the mineral oils themselves are not clearly defined chemical substances, but highly complex mixes of different hydrocarbon fractions. All of these factors make the determination, analysis and toxicological assessment of the relevant material very complicated indeed.

According to Tönnießen, the industry has been paying particularly close attention to NIAS in 2016. These substances are generally understood to be chemical compounds that occur in a product although they were not actively added to it during the manufacturing process. One example is primary aromatic amines (PAAs), which are used in industry to produce azo dyes or certain polymers, for example. With regard to laminating adhesives, PAAs can be generated by residual aromatic isocyanate monomers if the adhesive system has not been applied in compliance with the manufacturing specifications. Some PAAs are known to present a toxicological risk if ingested, as they have been seen as potentially carcinogenic. For all types of NIAS substances, the overriding aim is to prevent them migrating into foods. If this is not possible, a migration risk assessment must be performed.

EU market study and food contact statements
The importance of food safety was made clear by the recommendation on market monitoring published by the EU Commission on January 16th, 2017.  According to this recommendation, Member States are to monitor the presence of mineral oil hydrocarbons in foods and food contact materials from various manufacturers over the coming two years. Based on the results of this survey, a recommendation for migration limits will then be issued to the Member States. This is an important step forward in food safety as there have been no EU-wide harmonized limits to date, the only move in this direction being a draft regulation on mineral oils drawn up in Germany which is used as a guide by the industry. “The lack of clear regulatory guidance has led to some uncertainty in the industry, where people are clamoring for a more secure basis to plan on,” comments Tönnießen, who is in regular contact with industrial partners.
Henkel assists its customers in coping with this complex regulatory situation. Experts are there to discuss which adhesives would be the most appropriate for the specific application at the customer’s in order to assure the required extent of food safety. With its in-house expertise and 360-degree approach, Henkel helps its customers to achieve the necessary safety. And with its food contact statements developed specifically for this purpose, Henkel also gives its customers a decisive advantage. These statements not only include regulatory information on the provisions for food packages but also provide details on the risk assessments that Henkel conducts on its own products. Critically debated substances such as mineral oil components and PAAs are also covered by these statements.

End of the transition period of the Plastics Regulation
Another issue facing market players during the past year was the end of the transition period of the Plastics Regulation. On January 1st, 2016, the new test conditions of Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food came into full force. However, this did not mark the end of the changes for industry. At least, not as Dr. Matthias Frischmann, Head of Instrumental Analysis at Henkel, sees it: “Because of the tighter test conditions, some components have to be reassessed to ensure that they are food safe.”

Although adhesives are not covered by the Plastics Regulation, the more stringent test conditions are often taken as a basis for the assessment of the adhesives. “What people often don’t know is that many formulations cannot be tested under the new conditions,” says Frischmann. He points out that the physical and chemical properties of the products can change during testing, so that the migration test no longer comes close to reflecting real conditions. This makes it practically impossible to assess the actual food contact.

With a view to defining clear standards for the entire industry, Henkel is working closely with FEICA, the Association of the European Adhesive and Sealant Industry, and making a substantial contribution to solving the problem through the work of its experts.

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