Food Contact Materials on EU’s Radar

This year, the EU provisions on food contact materials are up for review: the EU Commission will be conducting a series of consultations as part of the review procedure – and has set up a number of scientific focus groups to this purpose. Akademie Fresenius held an international conference in Düsseldorf on June 13-14 to discuss the process status and the road ahead. The organizer had the support of numerous experts from the scientific sector, the food industry, as well as from the EU Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the food monitoring and food assessment authorities for this event.

Konrad Grob of the Cantonal Laboratory Zurich presented a critical opinion of the European provisions on Food Contact Materials (FCM) which are currently under revision. He regards these as being “not feasible.” For example, only a fraction of the FCMs currently in usage today are actually covered by the EU legislation. He said that the official checks were only directed at a few, well-known compounds and that it was impossible to include impurities and reaction products. On top of the inadequate legal provisions, the authorities also lacked resources – allowing them to do little more than carry out random checks.

Official resources are insufficient to fulfill these plans. This is why such a large gap between the general safety requirements pertaining to FCM and reality exists – hardly any of the FCM currently on the market comply with the safety demands placed on the migrating substances, the conference highlighted.

Producers must examine the safety of all the migrating substances for which there is currently no specific regulation in place (i.e. the vast majority) themselves. The specialists at the event concluded that legislation needs to be adapted accordingly: the priority should no longer be on authorizing new substances (around 10 substances per year) but on getting the producers to do the testing for the tens of thousands of substances that migrate into food from the FCM now on the market.

The legislation must support this self-assessment by ensuring that the demands are clear-cut (to be supplied by EFSA) and by facilitating efficient controls and enforcing harmonization across Europe.

New EU guidance defines the requirements for mineral oil analysis and reporting

Numerous contributions and discussions at the Akademie Fresenius Conference were devoted to analyzing and combatting mineral oil residues. These represent one of the major challenges that food packaging manufacturers have had to face during the past few years. Mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOSH = Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons and MOAH = Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons) can seep into foodstuffs from packaging materials made of recycled paper containing, for example, printer’s ink. The body easily absorbs MOSH and MOAH from food. These then accumulate in body fat and the organs, such as the spleen and the liver. The monitoring authorities, scientific field, and politics have all become involved in this topic. Now, numerous scientific opinions, solutions, and findings from specialized groups are on the table.

In early 2019, the EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) published its “Guidance on sampling, analysis, and data reporting for the monitoring of mineral oil hydrocarbons in food and food contact materials”. Stefanka Bratinova of the JRC presented this guidance document at the conference. It performs an overview of the advantages and drawbacks of the different analytical approaches available for MOSH/MOAH determination and sets down the minimum performance requirements for a relevant analytical method. In addition, the Guideline defines the sampling and reporting requirements.

Microplastics: More Research Required

Not only are mineral oil residues posing major challenges for packaging manufacturers and the food industry – but microplastic residues are also causing headaches. EFSA and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) have analyzed the uptake of microplastics through food. Alfonso Lampen of the BfR presented the results: although it is possible today to prove that microplastics may reach the food chain, the scientific sector still does not know enough about the uptake through nutrition, bioavailability and the toxicological mechanisms involved. It is crucial to conduct more research on material characterization, detection, and cellular uptake.

The first tests that the BfR carried out themselves – both using human intestinal epithelial cell cultures and animal trials – showed that although plastic particles of up to around 4 μm in diameter could be absorbed by the intestinal epithelial cells, the animal trials demonstrated that despite administering very large numbers of plastic particles, ranging in size from 1 – 10 μm, very few single particles could be found in the intestinal epithelial cells examined. The tests so far carried out by the BfR on the oral uptake of microparticles using various model particles did not show any indication of damage to intestinal tissue.

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