Most of the food comes to our homes in packaging, and it is the plastic that predominates over all of them. The current food safety regulations regarding packaging guarantee safe marketing.
Materials and Objects in Contact with Food
When we talk about containers, we have to include them within the group called “Materials and objects in contact with food”; within which we can mention: kitchen utensils, plates, cutlery and glasses and even the machines where food is produced, processed or elaborated, and of course, the containers that contain them.
The nature of these materials and objects is very diverse: ceramics, glass, metals and alloys, paper, cardboard, wood, waxes, plastic, etc.
In addition to these materials, we must not forget the active and intelligent ones, so called because they are used to prolong their useful life, in the first case, and to detect, show, record or communicate information about the state of the food or its environment, in the intelligent ones.
We must be aware that all these materials are not inert, and can yield, to a greater or lesser extent, substances to food that would be harmful to our health in the medium or long term.
Objects suitable for food contact
All objects not yet in contact with food, when marketed, must be accompanied by an indication that it is “Suitable for food contact”, or a specific graphic indication of its use as shown in the figure below.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is responsible for assessing the safety of all substances used in the manufacture of packaging, so that their use is safe for their intended purpose.
The latter is very important, since the operator guarantees this safety as long as the consumer follows the instructions for correct use indicated on the label, normally with symbols such as those shown in the figure below.
In order to facilitate the free movement of these materials within the EU, and to guarantee their safety, legal requirements have been established, hence the corresponding controls.
In the Regulation of the European Commission nº 1935 of 2004, the requirements that these materials and objects destined to enter in contact with the food have to fulfill, so that “they will not transfer their components to the food in quantities that can represent a risk for the human health, cause an unacceptable modification of the composition of the food or cause an alteration of the organoleptic characteristics of these”.
This Regulation establishes the requirements in matters of food safety and traceability for the manufacturers of food packaging, whose main objective is to guarantee the health of the consumers with respect to the materials that are in contact with the food.
Plastic Materials and Objects in the Food Industry
Since plastics are the most used in the food industry, we are going to focus on them. These materials are those that are made exclusively of plastic materials that can be formed by a single layer or several layers together (multilayer), even if our eye does not appreciate it.
Plastics are formed from monomers and other starting substances that after a chemical reaction give rise to the polymer. The addition of various additives makes it possible to obtain plastics for different technological applications.
These polymers are inert structures of high molecular weight, which do not pose any health risks.
It is the unreacted monomers or other starting substances and added additives or degradation products that, due to their low molecular weight, can migrate into the food.
The regulation establishes a series of requirements to ensure the protection of consumer health, among them are good manufacturing practices, regulated in Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006, which together with the correct use of each of the containers allow them not to have negative effects on the health of consumers, nor affect the nutritional quality of the food, nor its organoleptic characteristics.
Declaration of Conformity: What foods are suitable and under what conditions
In 2011 the Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles was published, with several subsequent amendments. Apart from establishing the rules regarding the composition of these materials, it includes the so-called “Union List”, which indicates the monomers and other substances along with the applications for which they have been authorized.
It is indicated that operators must make a Declaration of Conformity, i.e. for which foods it is suitable and under what conditions of use.
To demonstrate this conformity, the tests to be carried out are the global migration, which measures the inertia of the material, and the specific migration for certain substances, in order to verify their compliance with the limits of global migration (LMG) and specific migration (SML), respectively.