EFSA experts publish review on non-plastic food contact materials

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food contact materials European food safety authority Evaluation

A large number of substances used in non-plastic food contact materials have never been evaluated, said a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) working group tasked with developing a regulatory framework on the issue.

The body’s Scientific Cooperation (ESCO) Working Group has also proposed that a Pan-European network of experts be set up to help tackle crisis situations that surface in relation to such issues as printing inks, coatings, paper and board, and adhesives.

What happens to substances that are used in the production of non-plastic FCMs is another major issue, it said.

These are some of the findings contained in a report this week from a Europe-wide panel of experts brought together by the Parma-based food safety watchdog.

EFSA convened the panel of experts last year after concerns were raised that a number of recent crises had originated from non-plastic parts of food contact materials (FCMs). Toxic substances leaching into foods from packaging inks and recycled cardboard have been two of the major issues grabbing industry and consumer attention.

Review published

The ESCO team set out its activities since February 2010 in laying vital groundwork to form the basis of the EFSA opinion on the matter due to be published in the autumn.

The group has collected existing evaluations of non-plastic FCMs from member states and prepared inventory lists of the substance according to the way they were evaluated, in terms of guidelines and risk assessment.

The inventory list contains some 3,000 substances used to make non-plastic FCMs – almost 10 times more than the SCF Guidelines compiled twenty years ago.

The new list is divided into two group depending on whether their evaluation was carried out before (list A) or after (list B) the SCF guidelines in 1991.

ESCO has tabled strategies for prioritising the substance evaluations and for providing preliminary advice in case of a crisis or emergency.

The review also details suggested separate testing protocols where toxicological data does and does not exist.

“It should be emphasized that the above approaches are not designed to replace full risk assessment,”​ said a statement from the group. “These principles may be of value to industry to define which studies should be undertaken in priority.”

Dietary exposure

The report explored the evaluation of substances in relation to dietary exposure.

This can be carried out based on uses and concentrations of the substances in the non-plastic FCM in relation to migration modelling, said the report.

Migration models are typically based on the molecular weight of the substance. “More or less realistic assumptions and scenarios”​ can be designed, depending on the material and the applications, it added.

Substances for which the dietary exposure is likely to exceed the corresponding exposure threshold value should be considered as a priority for risk assessment, it stressed.


In assessing the possible holes in the current system, the panel raised the large number of substances used in non-plastic FCM have not been evaluated by a Member State.

It also pointed out there were some substances that have been assessed but are not in use.

“If industry is going for a prioritization, the list B should be updated and it may be useful to consider substances never evaluated by MS,”​ suggested the experts.

ESCO said that not all types of substances have been evaluated. Citing processing aids as an example, it said this may be done in future.

Substances that are added unintentionally “represent a major problem”, ​said the paper, labelling scientific knowledge in this area as “poor”.

“More scientific research work in this area is needed to identify the fate of the substances used to manufacture non plastic FCM,” ​said ESCO.

To read a full copy of the report click HERE

Related topics Regulation, policy & food safety

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