Active and intelligent packaging substances

Active food contact materials absorb or release substances in order to improve the quality of packaged food or to extend its shelf life. Intelligent food contact materials monitor the condition of packaged food or the surrounding environment, for instance by providing information on the freshness of the food.

The safety of food contact materials requires evaluation as chemicals can migrate from these materials into food. The materials should be manufactured in compliance with European Union (EU) regulations, including good manufacturing practices, so that any potential transfer to foods does not raise safety concerns, change the composition of the food in an unacceptable way or have adverse effects on quality (for instance, taste and/or odour).

The general task of evaluating substances intended for use in food contact materials as well as carrying out additional risk assessments in relation to food contact materials are carried out by EFSA’s Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF). This work forms part of the authorisation procedure for substances which require evaluation by EFSA before their use in the EU can be authorised. The Panel’s work is based on reviewing scientific information and data usually submitted by applicants. The Authority also develops guidance for submission of applications related to active and intelligent food contact materials.

In August 2009, EFSA published guidelines on the submission of dossiers for the safety assessment of active and intelligent substances used in food packaging. The guidelines specify for industry which aspects EFSA takes into account when assessing the safety of these substances and the types of data needed to conduct the assessments. The evaluations also consider the possible influence of manufacturing processes and the intended uses of the specific substance.

In March 2012, the Authority published its first scientific opinions on the safety evaluation of an active substance used in food packaging.

Main work in progress

All received applications for authorisation can be accessed on EFSA’s online Register of Questions: 

EFSA adopts and publishes scientific opinions and provides scientific advice for risk managers on the safety of substances used or intended to be used to manufacture materials which come into contact with food as well as the safety of related processes.

General requirements for all food contact materials are laid down in Framework Regulation EC 1935/2004. Good Manufacturing Practice for materials and articles intended to come in contact with food is described in Regulation EC 2023/2006. The legislation aims to ensure that these materials do not transfer into foods (in a process called ‘migration’) in unacceptable quantities.

Regulation EC 450/2009 sets down specific requirements on the use and authorisation of active and intelligent materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. The regulation also establishes an EU-wide list of substances that can be used in the manufacture of these materials: substances may only be added to the list once their safety has been evaluated for safety by EFSA.