How Food Packaging Defines Consumer Health and Food Safety

Inks used in food packaging are typically composed of a complex mixture of pigments, resins, solvents, and additives

Food packaging plays a crucial role in preserving the quality and freshness of food, extending its shelf life, and ensuring its safe transportation and distribution. However, the materials used in food packaging, particularly inks, can potentially impact consumer health and food safety if not carefully selected and regulated.

Inks used in food packaging are typically composed of a complex mixture of pigments, resins, solvents, and additives. While these components are essential for achieving the desired color, adhesion, and durability of the ink, some chemicals used in ink formulations can potentially migrate into the food they come into contact with. Certain chemicals commonly used in inks, such as toluene, mineral oil, and benzophenone, have raised concerns regarding their potential adverse health effects. Toluene, a solvent has been classified as CMR2 (Reprotoxic) and has been linked to hearing loss and several other health issues. In a landmark decision, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) decided to ban the use of this toxic element in food packaging in 2021 supported by the mandate provided by Indian regulator i.e Food Safety and Standard Authority of India. Furthermore, Mineral oil, a component of offset printing inks, can accumulate in the body and cause health problems. Benzophenone, a photoinitiator in UV inks has also been classified as carcinogenic (Category 1B).

The hazardous chemicals mentioned above and many more may have potential to migrate from food packaging into the food safety and thereby can have detrimental effects on consumer health. Migrants are substances which, due to their chemical characteristics and molecular size, move from a printed layer into the packed food.

There are different types of migration, which are as follows:

Set-off migration

Migrations can happen from one layer to another, such as a surface printed layer to the non-printed food-contact surface, which is later brought into contact with food. If these are in direct or close contact, like in a reel or a stack after printing, set-off migration can easily occur due to the pressure existing in the reel or stack.

Diffusion migration

Small and mobile molecules can easily penetrate and diffuse across packaging material layers. This can occur even if the printed material has not yet been converted into a food package and filled with food, or later when the printed package is filled with food and the food starts to extract the migrants from the packaging material.

Gas-phase migration

Migration can also happen from a cardboard (the releasing reservoir) via the gas phase within the pack, to end up in food which acts as the recipient reservoir (gas phase migration). This can, for example, occur with migrants like mineral oils or some UV photo-initiators that might not be generally known as being volatile, such as organic solvents.

This process of migration is influenced by several factors like the physico-chemical properties of the migrant, of packaging material and of the food product: the storage time and temperature, and the size of packaging in proportion to foodstuff volume.

To ensure the safety of food packaging inks, manufacturers must carefully select chemicals that are approved for food contact and adhere to stringent regulatory standards. These regulations aim to minimize the migration of hazardous substances into food and protect consumer health. Regulators worldwide have been consistently taking steps to address the potential risks associated with food packaging inks.

Very recently even in Bangladesh, for instance, the BSTI has raised the bar on packaging safety by bringing a standard - BDS 2022:2023 (Printing Ink for Food Packaging – Code of Practice) that sets control over the use of hazardous chemicals for Food Packaging inks.

In conclusion, Food packaging plays a critical role in the food supply chain, but it is essential to ensure that the materials used in packaging do not pose any risk to consumer health. Careful selection of chemicals in ink formulations, adherence to regulatory standards, continuous monitoring of potential hazards, and innovation in ink technology are crucial steps in safeguarding food safety. By adopting these measures, we can ensure that food packaging continues to serve its purpose while protecting the well-being of consumers.

The article is authored by Mr. Jatin Takkar Head- Product Safety and Regulatory, Siegwerk India

( Source : Guest Post )
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