Patrokles QA Manager

Risks from bio-based FCM need monitoring – UK research

Additional sources of migration possible from agri-food, processing

Food contact materials made from animal or plant biomass can perform as well as plastic FCM, but there may be additional risks to consumers from chemicals and allergens migrating into food, according to a UK study.

These include heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), natural toxins and allergens, concluded the study commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.

‘Bio-based’ packaging materials are derived from biological and renewable resources, which consist of polymers directly extracted or removed from biomass, produced by chemical synthesis using renewable bio-based monomers or produced by microorganisms or genetically modified bacteria.

These innovative and environment-friendly materials include bio-based plastics for food containers, films and composite materials for drink cartons. 

But their biodegradability, combined with their manufacture from diverse biomass resources including agri-food by-products, may lead to additional sources of risk that are not observed with plastic FCM, said a report released last month but finalised in June.

Their processing may also be a source of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), with potential to migrate upon food contact. Thermal processing to convert materials into packaging may generate contaminants more frequently associated with food, such as acrylamide, “although this has not been established”, it said.

An increasing number of biodegradable and compostable FCM are coming onto the market and the report said these provide similar “barrier properties” to plastic FCM, enabling comparable shelf life performance and consumer protection.

However, very limited information is available on many of these materials, it said. But current risk assessment processes for establishing contaminant chemical transfer from packaging to food would be appropriate for bio-based FCM.

An evaluation of the EU’s decades-old FCM framework Regulation is currently underway. At a stakeholder workshop last month, member states, industry and NGOs made a final plea for full harmonisation of EU-wide controls on hazardous chemicals.

REACH synergies

Meanwhile, details of another workshop organised by NGO CHEM Trust have come to light.

Held at the end of April under Chatham House rules – this means individual participants’ views cannot be made public – the workshop looked into possible synergies between REACH and FCM laws and whether REACH could have a role in ensuring the safety of FCM.

Participants at the workshop included experts from the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), Echa and member states.

Overall, they regarded the basic REACH system as “useful” but were concerned that safety assessments made under REACH lose track of substances when they are incorporated into an article, including FCM, CHEM Trust’s notes from the workshop reveal.

New legislation should create a better link between REACH and FCM and legislative steps under REACH should also trigger action for FCM, participants said.

As a minimum, they added, there should be a requirement to re-evaluate the use in FCM of substances of very high concern (SVHCs), as well as substances restricted under REACH.

Patrokles QA Manager – Quality Assurance Done Right.

We have recognised that managing all aspects of product compliance including safety of Food Contact Articles requires not just domain knowledge but also a dedicated software solution to streamline day to day activities that quickly spiral out of control if shared file storage, spreadsheets and email are the only tools at your disposal.

Risks from bio-based FCM need monitoring – UK research
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