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Putting food safety first

Following the recent increase in food packaging migration alerts, which have in some cases resulted in product withdrawals from supermarket shelves, Sun Chemical Europe sheetfed systems product manager Dr Bernhard Fritz writes on the importance of low migration print technology in relation to food packaging

With an increase in food packaging migration alerts highlighted by several high profile product withdrawals from supermarket shelves, the issue of designing and producing compliant food packaging has become a hot topic. While market awareness of the issues surrounding migration from packaging has been increasing on a global basis, Sun Chemical has been promoting the use of low migration offset printing technology for use on packaging for more than 25 years.

Migration from food packaging refers to the transfer of unwanted substances from the packaging to the packaged food. These changes are not always picked up by odour or taste tests, and are usually found by chemical analyses.

The migrating substances can come from a variety of sources, including the packaging substrates, inks, coatings, adhesives, the printing press or the environment in which the raw materials, work in progress or the finished printed pack, are stored.

In Europe, packaging that is intended to come into contact with food must meet the requirements of EU regulation (EC) No 1935/2004. The guiding principle of this legislation requires that food packaging should not transfer materials to the packaged goods in quantities that bring about a change in nature, substance or quality of the food, and must not be injurious to health. In addition, producers must operate using Good Manufacturing Practice as defined in EU regulation (EC) No 2023/2006.

More recently, the Swiss regulatory authorities have introduced an ‘ordinance’, which specifically outlines lists of raw materials that can be used in food packaging inks. Each listed substance has a migration limit against which the down-stream stakeholders are expected to assure compliance.

While legally this ordinance only affects inks and packaging within Switzerland, its effects are felt throughout Europe and beyond. Many customers and brand owners outside Switzerland expect inks and coatings to comply with these requirements. At the start of 2011,the German authorities also declared their intention to implement a national ordinance on inks for food packaging.

According to the UK Food Standards Agency: “The packaging designer, manufacturer and the food manufacturer that distribute the product are responsible for ensuring the requirements of the regulations are met AND for ensuring appropriate selection of materials for the intended end use of the packaging.”

Of course, simply printing with low migration inks and coatings does not ensure compliant packaging – appropriate good manufacturing printing protocols also have to be adhered to.

Simple Choices

Printing compliant food packaging is often seen as a minefield of complex legislative decisions, however the brand owner, print specifier and print converter have some simple choices to make.

A risk assessment should always be completed at the initial stage of pack concept design. If a migration risk is anticipated, then the pack either needs to be tested to prove its migration performance and appropriate steps taken to reduce the risk, or low migration inks and coatings should be used to avoid any worries.

If the testing route is chosen, and it is proven that appropriate barrier performance is provided by the substrate, then the designer has a choice of using standard inks and coatings or ‘intermediate’ migration solutions. If unacceptable migration is present, then a functional or absolute barrier to migration must be designed in, or low migration inks and coatings used. It really is that simple!

The economics of the choices are another matter though. Weighing up which route is the most cost effective can be complex, but the bottom line is that the whole of the packaging supply chain, from brand owner to packer filler, needs to work together to ensure safe packaging for the consumer.

Sun Chemical has developed a portfolio of low migration inks and coatings to support the packaging chain across a range of print processes and technologies. We continue to invest heavily in technology developments to meet food packaging regulatory requirements and we work hard to take the lead in educating and supporting all partners in the supply chain on compliance, the potential pitfalls, their options, as well as opportunities.

The third edition of Sun Chemical’s Best Practice Guide for Low Migration Printing, Designing Packaging with Certainty, was launched in May 2011 to reflect the current packaging market situation, including the impact of the new Swiss Ordinance legislation and REACH.

For a copy, readers should contact

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and may not be shared by this publication.

Dr Bernhard Fritz Dr Bernhard Fritz

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