New EC food contact rules

The plastics industry will soon have to get to grips with a new and detailed European Union (EU) regulation covering the manufacture and use of plastics as materials for packaging in contact with food.
In recent years, plastic food contact materials are being developed that do not consist of only one plastic, but combine up to 15 different plastic layers to attain optimum functionality and protection of the food, while reducing packaging waste.

The proposed regulation has been accepted by the EU Council of Ministers. The legislation is likely to come into force from January 2013 and companies will be encouraged to use the new regulation’s system for carrying out ‘migration tests’ on the materials they are using at once. This will become compulsory from January 2016.

The legislation includes a wide-ranging list of authorised substances that may be used to make plastic layers in plastic materials and articles for food packaging.

The regulation also includes detailed rules on the amount of these substances that can end up in food. For certain substances, the legislation includes ‘specific migration limits’, and for others without a special limit, a general limit of 60 mg/kg will apply.

Furthermore, the legislation says, “Plastic materials and articles shall not transfer their constituents to food simulants in quantities exceeding 10 milligrams of total constituents released per dm2 of food contact surface (mg/dm2).”

Substances which are mutagenic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction cannot be used in food contact materials without prior authorisation.

Where a special food contact barrier is used by manufacturers to protect food, unauthorised packaging materials can be used so long as they do not leach into food at levels exceeding 0.01 mg/kg of food.
The use of colorants and solvents in this packaging is not covered by the new law and remains controlled by national rules within the EU’s 27 member states, although the legislation notes “that situation should be reassessed at a later stage.”

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