Food Contact Materials

Food contact materials are materials and objects which are intended to come into contact with food, for example cooking spoons made of melamine, yoghurt pots made of polypropylene and printed folding cartons. However, the conveyor belts, metal sheets and hoses which are used in technical facilities for the production of foodstuffs also belong to this group. A variety of different materials are usually combined in food packaging in order to obtain particular packaging characteristics and to protect contents from outside influences, such as unintended oxidation due to the penetration of air. Depending on their purpose, food contact materials can consist of complex systems of diverse chemical substances, such as plastic polymers, printing inks, paints, glues or paper, putting great demands on the safety and quality of these products.

What are the legal regulations?

At the European level, materials and objects which are intended to come into contact with foodstuffs are subject to strict regulation along the entire length of the production chain. The relevant legal framework is constituted by Regulation (EC) 1935/2004, according to which food contact materials must be produced in accordance with good manufacturing practice, such that no substances are able to enter foods in quantities which harm human health, lead to unacceptable changes to the foodstuff composition, or detrimentally affect the smell or taste of the food.

These requirements, however, are only specified in very general terms. Detailed measures which extend the general specifications of the regulatory framework have therefore been issued for certain materials. Thus, Appendix I of Regulation (EC) No. 10/2011 (Plastics Regulation) specifies which monomers and additives can be used in the production of plastics which are intended to come into contact with food. Behind a functional barrier, however, other materials can be made use of, as long as it can be guaranteed that their level of migration through the barrier does not exceed the value of 0.01 mg/kg. Such barrier films have an additional role in minimizing the transfer of mineral oil from cartons made from recycled paper into cereal products and other dry foodstuffs.

As a general rule, substances contained in finished plastic materials are only allowed to migrate into food simulants at a level of up to 10 milligrams/dm2 of foodstuff contact area (overall migration). For packaging materials which are used for infants and toddlers, there is a stricter maximum content of 60mg/kg of food simulant. In addition to these overall migration limits, the Plastics Regulation has established specific migration limits (SML) for more than 1,000 individual substances, including monomers, softeners and photoinitiators.

Businesses which process and use plastics are thus obliged to ensure that their products conform with the specifications of these regulations and to certify their conformity with these regulations all the way to the level of retail. In this context, NIAS, (non-intentionally added substances) are becoming increasingly relevant. These are chemical impurities, reaction products or break-down products (e.g. cyclo-di-BADGE), which can form during the processing, storage or use of plastics, but which are deliberately added to the material during production.

Service at ifp

As a competent partner in issues related to food safety and product quality, ifp offers the following testing and advisory services:

  • Overall migration
  • Specific migration (testing for various substances, including phthalate, acrylamide, bisphenol A, mineral oil hydrocarbons and metals)
  • Examination of the barrier properties of plastic films with respect to mineral oil hydrocarbons
  • Determination of the MOSH/MOAH and POSH content of packaging materials and of migration
  • Legal assessment of analysis results on the basis of European and national regulations as well as the statements of the BfR.