Food Contact Materials

Food contact materials are all materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, such as packaging and containers, kitchen equipment, cutlery and dishes. These can be made from a variety of materials including plastics, rubber, paper and metal.

They also include materials used in processing equipment, such as coffee makers or production machinery as well as containers used for transport. European legislation for food contact materials also covers materials that contact water intended for human consumption, e.g. bottles, but excludes fixed public or private water supply equipment.

The safety of food contact materials must be evaluated as chemicals can migrate from the materials into food. The materials must be manufactured in compliance with 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 the taste and/or odour of foods.

In July 2017, EFSA received a mandate from the European Commission to update its 2005 opinions on the safety assessment of three phthalates – di-butylphthalate (DBP), benzyl-butyl-phthalate (BBP) and bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) – which are currently authorised for use in plastic Food Contact Materials (FCM).

This mandate followed the publication in March 2017 of an opinion on DBP, BBP and DEHP, along with di-isobutylphthalate (DIBP), by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which is expected to lead to a proposal for an amendment of Annex XVII to REACH, which lists restrictions on the manufacture, placing on the market and use of certain dangerous substances, mixtures and articles.

Based on data that was also used by ECHA, a dedicated EFSA working group is evaluating whether EFSA’s 2005 opinions on the three phthalates are still valid. The new opinion is scheduled for completion in 2018 and will be used by the European Commission to help inform their decision-making on these substances.

The general task of evaluating substances intended for use in food contact materials as well as additional risk assessments in relation to food contact materials are carried out by the Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF).

The Panel’s work is based on reviewing scientific information and data submitted by applicants. EFSA has published guidance for the submission of applications for the safety evaluation of substances intended to be used in food contact materials. The Authority has also developed specific guidance for submission of applications related to active and intelligent packaging and processes for recycling plastic used in food contact materials.

The CEF Panel also responds to ad-hoc requests from the European Commission to review certain food contact materials in the light of new scientific information and/or changing conditions and/or use.

Main work in progress

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 (e.g. recycling of plastics).

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. There are also EU regulations for specific materials: ceramics, regenerated cellulose film, plastics, recycled plastics and active and intelligent materials. In addition, some directives cover single substances or groups of substances used in the manufacture of food contact materials.
Food contact materials must not transfer their components into the foods in unacceptable quantities (migration). This relies on insuring that during contact there is no migration of unsafe levels of chemical substances from the material to the food.

As part of a European network, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre operates a European Union Reference Laboratory for Food Contact Materials that provides scientific support to EU policies on food safety through information about research and analysis on food contact materials.

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