Draft law focuses on packaging contaminants

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, European union

Proposed EU legislation would define the manufacturing practices
the bloc's processors would have to take in ensuring that packaging
materials do not migrate into foods.

All companies would be required to follow what the law defines as "good manufacturing practice" (GMP) in ensuring that packaging chemicals do not transfer to the foods.

GMP would require food companies to change their production methods to prevent the possibility of packaging substances transferring to foods.

The proposed requirements would apply to chemicals that might not give rise to particular health concerns but which should not be in foods. They also apply to active and intelligent materials used in packaging to extend shelf life or indicate when food is off.

The proposals are partially an outcome of food safety crisis last November in which Italy's regulators discovered that a printing chemical from a Tetra Pak package was found to have migrated into a Nestlé milk product for babies.

The discovery led Italian authorities to confiscate millions of litres of Nestlé baby milk, even thought health officials found the chemical posed no danger to human health.

Nestlé subsequently was forced by court order to make a recall of about two million litres of its Nidina and Latte Mio brands. The recall was extended to France, Spain and Portugal. Dutch group Numico was also involved in recalling some of its products.

The crisis subsequently exposed a loophole in food law, as there was no EU-wide regulation on benign food contact materials that would have forced Nestlé to make the recall in the other countries.

The proposals to close the loophole would require processors to follow GMP in ensuring that packaging chemicals do not transfer to foods.

Current EU regulation requires that all food packaging materials shall be manufactured in compliance with GMP, the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said in releasing a consultation on the proposals.

Prior to the adoption of the European Regulation, the UK and some other EU member states unsuccessfully sought clarification from the Commission of the term 'good manufacturing practice'.

In making the new legislative proposals, the Commission has provided clarification in the eventual form of a specific regulation, the FSA noted.

"Not all industries operate according to good manufacturing practice or have detailed GMP guidelines,"​ the FSA stated. "Most member states have not issued GMP guidelines."

The Commission working document would also amend an EU regulation that permits the intended migration of food contact materials.

It sets out the specific purpose of such migration, the conditions that would apply to the substances that migrate, labelling, and the provision of information within the manufacturing chain.

It also deals with the circumstances under which manufacturers may suspend the application of food additive regulations and relevant overall and specific migration limits.

The proposed law also sets out the content of a EU list of chemicals, including the period for which authorisation shall be granted and for inclusion in the list.

The document also deals with changes, suspension, revocation and renewal of an authorisation, the detail of the labelling and compliance declaration requirements. Transitional measures would give industry time to register under the system.

The proposals also set out requirements for the use of active and intelligent materials in packaging. The components must also be included in the Commission's list of ingredients deemed to be acceptable for food contact use.

Active materials are those designed to release a substance into or onto the foodstuff as a means of extending shelf life, or maintaining or improving its condition.

Under current law active materials may be used if the changes to the foodstuff comply with European Community rules, such as those on the use of approved food additives. Where there are no EU-wide provisions, the 'active' materials and articles must comply with the national rules of the market.

The legislation would also apply to materials and articles that are designed to absorb something from the packaged food or the environment surrounding the foodstuff.

These are likely to gas scavengers or absorbers inserted into the packaging. They are put there to soak up gases or juices that might hasten the deterioration of the packaged food.

Current legislation does not permit active materials and articles that bring about changes to the smell and taste of the food that could mislead consumers into the state of its freshness.

'Intelligent' materials and articles are those that monitor the condition of the food or its surrounding environment in the packaging. Such devices include colour indicators that monitor the food environment in the packaging for temperature, gases and changing colour.

This change of colour is visible from the outside of the packaging and tells the retailer and consumer when the food has spoiled. Others might change colour over a particular period of time and indicate when the 'use by' date has been reached. As with 'active' materials and articles, such indicators are not allowed to mislead consumers about the condition of the food through the information they provide.

The proposals are likely to be put to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) in September, the FSA stated. Member states will then have time to consider the document before being called upon to formally take a position and to vote on its adoption.

The FSA expects the document could adoption in December, and become law in the early part of 2007.

The FSA is holding a public consultation on the proposals. The deadline for comments is 27 November.

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