EC issues guide on active and intelligent packaging reg

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Packaging

EC issues guide on active and intelligent packaging reg
New guidance on active and intelligent (A&I) food packaging will help industry players, professional bodies and national authorities understand and implement legislation passed two years ago, said the European Commission (EC).

Brussels last week published the 26-page guide to Regulation (EC) No 450/2009 which came into law in May 2009.

As well as providing definitions for A&I packaging, it lists which type of packaging or components fall under the regulation and why.

The guidance also examines the legal aspects of the authorization process, provides criteria for approved A&I substances to be included on the Union list and lays out a series of frequently asked questions.


The document defines active materials and articles and materials as those “intended to extend the shelf-life or to maintain or improve the condition of packaged food”.

It added they are designed to deliberately incorporate components that “release or absorb substances into or from the packaged food or the environment surrounding the food”.

It adds that active packaging must have an extra function in addition to that of providing a protective barrier against external elements.

“Active packaging is intended to influence the packed food,”​ said the EC.

Intelligent materials and articles monitor the condition of packaged food or the environment surrounding the food. They provide information on the condition of the food. Unlike active materials, they do not release components into the product and are instead placed on outer surfaces and may be separated from the food by a functional barrier.

What is (and isn’t) A&I packaging

The guidance clarifies what materials and technologies come under the regulation and those that do not in an attempt to shed light on what can be complicated criteria.

The first example regarding oxygen scavengers highlights crucial differences in the function of the same technology that can lead to it being classified as A&I packing or not.

Oxygen scavengers can be used in a range of packaged foods and drinks – often in the form of sachets. The crucial element is that they capture residual oxygen from inside the package to cut the food’s exposure to the gas and extend shelf life.

However, an oxygen scavenger with a PET bottle that serves to stop the gas permeating through the container wall will not be covered by Regulation 450/2009.

Even in the case that oxygen inside the bottle is absorbed – it also would not fall under the law if “such an effect is unintentional and rather minimal”.

However, the EC added: “If there is an intentional effect, the application is covered by the definition and it should be declared and proven in the application.”

Absorbers are used as a second illustration of this principle. Those that interact with packaging gases – such modified atmosphere packaging – and come into contact with food are covered by the law. But those that may exert an influence on substance in the packaging material and don’t come into contact with the food are not.

An example of this could be an absorber of acetic acid that may be generated from the extrusion of EVA polymers, or an absorber of acetaldehyde from PET, it said.

Legal aspects

In exploring the legal aspects relating to authorisation of an A&I substance, the guidance gives an overview of the relevant clauses, as well as providing eight examples including release systems, absorbers, time temperature indicators .

It also lays out the kinds of substances that may or may not be used under the A&I regulation but could be in accordance with Regulation 1935/2004.

Nick Kernoghan, leading industry analyst with Pira International, said the document did not contain any surprises.

“It provides a good basic guide and does exactly what it says on the tin,”​ he added. “It reinforces what the industry already thought and in general does a good job of what does, and does not, need to be notified.”

To read the guidance click HERE

Related topics Regulation & safety