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.
Food contact materials also include those used in processing equipments, such as coffee makers or production machinery as well as containers used in transport. In addition, EU legislation for food contact materials covers materials in contact with water intended for human consumption, e.g. bottles, with the exception of fixed public or private water supply equipment.
The safety of materials in contact with food must be evaluated as molecules can migrate from the materials into food. The materials should be manufactured in compliance with EU regulations, which also require 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 odour of foods.
EU regulatory framework
The EU is currently harmonising its legislation on food contact materials to ensure food safety and to remove technical barriers to trade.
General requirements for all food contact materials are laid down in Framework Regulation 1935/2004. Specific EU regulations have been established for ceramics, regenerated cellulose film, plastics, recycled plastics and active and intelligent materials. In addition, there are Directives on single substances or groups used in the manufacture of food contact materials.
- EU regulatory framework – European Commission, DG Health and Consumers
EFSA’s role and activities
EFSA adopts 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).
This risk assessment is carried out by the Panel on food contact materials, enzymes, flavourings and processing aids (CEF). The Panel has a general task of evaluating substances intended for use in materials in contact with food. This work is part of the authorisation procedure where substances have to be evaluated 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 or by the European Commission. EFSA has published a guidance document for the presentation of an application for the safety evaluation of substances intended to be used to produce materials.
- Panel on food contact materials, enzymes, flavourings and processing aids (CEF)
- Former Panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food (AFC)
- Guidance document on the submission of a dossier on a substance to be used in Food Contact Materials for evaluation by EFSA
Benzophenone and 4-methylbenzophenone
Benzophenone and 4-methylbenzophenone are chemicals used, among others, in printing inks for food packaging. Following the detection of 4-methylbenzophenone in breakfast cereals in the EU, the Commission asked for urgent advice on the risks to human health of this chemical.
EFSA published a statement in March following an urgent request for advice from the European Commission. Following a cautious approach due to the limited time and data available, EFSA indicated that a health concern could not be excluded for some children who regularly ate breakfast cereals contaminated with 4-methylbenzophenone at the highest levels reported. However, in the more comprehensive risk assessment published in May 2009 the Panel considered there to be no health risks from the short-term consumption of breakfast cereals contaminated with 4-methylbenzophenone at levels reported earlier.
The Panel also determined a new TDI for the similar substance benzophenone of 0.03 mg per kilogram bodyweight, but concluded that the same TDI could not be applied to 4-methylbenzophenone.
- Toxicological evaluation of benzophenone
- EFSA statement on the presence of 4-methylbenzophenone found in breakfast cereals
EFSA has carried out risk assessments of Bisphenol A, which is a chemical mainly used in combination with other chemicals to manufacture plastics and resins. This work is described in more detail in the Topic on Bisphenol A.
EFSA evaluated the possible health risks related to 2-Isopropylthioxanthone (ITX) in 2007, a substance used in inks applied to packaging materials including cartons. EFSA found that the presence of ITX in foods, whilst undesirable, does not give cause for health concern at the levels reported.
EFSA also evaluated the safety of the chemical substance semicarbazide (SEM) in food packaged in glass jars in 2005 and epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO), a substance used as plasticiser in glass jar seals in 2006.
- Scientific statement related to an update on the hazard assessment of 2-isopropyl thioxanthone (ITX) in food contact materials
- Scientific opinion related to Semicarbazide in food
- Scientific opinion related to epoxidised soybean oil used in food contact materials
Plastics and plastic recycling
In the EU, plastic is one of the most common food contact materials. EFSA evaluates plastic substances and materials intended for use in food contact materials as well as the processes used to recycle plastic materials for food use.
Substances such as inks and adhesives which are used in non-plastic food contact materials can also come into contact with foods and may pose safety risks. In February 2010 a working group was set up on this issue made up of members of EFSA’s CEF Panel and relevant experts from the Member States. The group will review approaches used for the assessment of these substances and propose criteria for future safety evaluations.
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, e.g. providing information on the freshness of the food.
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 the industry which aspects EFSA will take into account when assessing the safety of these substances and the types of data needed to conduct the assessments. The evaluation will also consider the possible influence of manufacturing processes and the intended uses.
An EU-wide list of substances that can be used in the manufacture of these materials will be drawn up and substances will only be added to the list once their safety has been individually evaluated by EFSA.
- Guidelines on submission of a dossier for safety evaluation by the EFSA of active or intelligent substance(s) present in active and intelligent materials and articles intended to come into contact with food
- Food Contact Materials – European Commission, DG Health and Consumers
- European Reference Laboratory for Food Contact Materials