Food law and packaging
Implementing the EU's new legal requirements from 2010 is the key challenge facing the packaging and product decoration industry in the coming years. It won't be easy to achieve and maintain legal compliance with existing food contact materials. This article provides an overview of the mass of EU regulations and directives in the food industry.
Key strategic areas in EU food law
The primary source of legislation for food safety is Regulation (Jan.2000) / Reg. (EC) No 178/2002. The key strategic areas in this regulation can be summarised as follows:
- Implementation of an integrated concept "From the producer to the consumer".
- Previously applicable regulations will be revised and developed on the basis of scientific opinion as appropriate.
- Inclusion of all parties involved in the food value added chain
- Stricter monitoring from the producer to the consumer
- Implementation of the principles "Food safety is paramount" and "Players (companies) in the food and animal feed industries bear the responsibility"
- Each member state is responsible for monitoring and inspections.
- The European Commission uses audits and inspections to check that member states are fulfilling their supervisory duty
- Ensuring a high level of health and consumer protection for a forward-looking new food policy
This regulation increases obligations on food and animal feed manufacturers. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is looking to ensure greater safety and transparency throughout the entire food value added chain. Key areas include:
Safety: Companies must not market any unsafe food or animal feed.
Responsibility: Companies are responsible for the safety of the food and animal feed they use, transport, store or sell.
Traceability: Companies must be able to trace all suppliers and recipients quickly.
Transparency: Companies must notify the relevant authorities without delay if they have reason to suspect their food or animal feed is not safe.
Immediate measures: Companies must remove food and animal feed from the market without delay if they have reason to suspect it is not safe.
Prevention: Companies must identify and monitor critical points in their processes on a regular basis and ensure checks are performed at these points.
Collaboration: Companies must work with the relevant authorities on measures to cut risks.
Figure 1: EU Food Law Reg. (EC) No 178/2002
Overview of packaging directives and regulations
Figure 1 shows an overview of the European Food Law, including the regulations on food contact materials (FCM). The legal framework for the FCM regulation is shown in detail in Figure 2 below. This makes clear what a printing company may be faced with and what packaging and label suppliers to the food industry have to take into consideration.
Figure 2: EU legal framework for FCM
The regulation "Good Manufacturing Practice" (GMP) Reg. (EC) No 2023/2006 is a new addition to the FCM regulation. REACH and the packaging waste regulation are still in the pipeline.
The FCM regulation Reg. (EC) No 1935/2004 covers all packaging materials that come into contact with food. However, not every material is covered by a regulation (see Figure 3)
Figure 3: Overview of the regulations for food contact materials
As can be seen in Figure 3, there is no regulation for certain packaging materials. The plastics area is relatively well regulated compared to other packaging materials. There is a positive list, along with overall migration limits (OML) and specific migration limits (SML).
Further new regulations and measuring methods for raw materials, particularly for plastics, are still in the pipeline, such as multi-layer barrier films (glued, printed, coated). Inks, coatings and adhesives for plastic composites will also be included. For multilayer plastic, materials may be used behind a functional barrier, provided their migration is not found to exceed a detection limit of 0.01 mg/kg content.
Impact of EU food law on food packaging and label printers
At first glance, the above-mentioned key strategic areas relating to food law do not appear to have much to do with food packaging. People might get the impression that it primarily concerns food and animal feed manufacturers. However, food is generally packed, labelled and presented on the shelf. This is why the EU has now also introduced regulations on materials and items that come into contact with food (see Figure 1).
Packaging requirements are growing continuously. Under the new legislation, food packaging must meet the following requirements:
- Protect the contents against:
-- loss of value-determining elements
-- mechanical damage
- Enable distribution
- Communication (product decoration)
- Meet food law requirements
However, at the same time packaging designs are also changing and present further challenges for packaging printers:
- More complex packaging materials (e.g. "multimaterial" and "multilayer")
- Convenience packaging (e.g. "easy opening" and "resealable")
- Active and intelligent packaging (e.g. antimicrobial and oxygen-absorbent)
- Biodegradable plastics (e.g. starch-based films and PLA)
Food manufacturers are entitled to safety-related information on food contact materials in order to comply with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002.
The most important requirements for food packaging and label printers are therefore:
- Implementation of Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006 on GMP
- Implementation of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs
- Enable systematic implementation of the compliance strategy in companies
- Straightforward and efficient creation of conformity declarations
- Identification of risks resulting from materials and migration
Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006 on GMP in Article 3 "Quality assurance system" describes all the organised and documented precautions for the purpose of ensuring that materials and items demonstrate the required quality to comply with the rules that apply to them and to meet the quality standards necessary for their intended use.
All factors that affect the end product in the course of producing and processing FCM with regard to compliance with Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 must be defined and documented in line with GMP. Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 on FCM also stipulates that no transfer of elements to foodstuffs should take place and thus no damage to human health should occur nor should there be any unjustifiable change to food, such as composition, taste and smell.
Chapter 10 of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs lays down the provisions for food packaging. Material used as packaging must not present any source of contamination for food. Packaging must be stored in such a way that it also cannot be contaminated. Packaging must be manufactured in such a way that it also cannot also be contaminated.
The conformity declaration covers all aspects in the manufacturing and processing of food contact materials. The conformity declaration is a binding, written declaration with documentation from suppliers, formulations, technical data sheets and safety data. It is important to ensure that the conformity declaration does not contain any incomplete or deficient data records.
As many conformity declarations as possible must be completed as early as possible in the value added chain all the way to the last company responsible. Each manufacturing stage is responsible for the conformity declaration and any conformity declarations that have not been concluded must be delegated. As a basic principle, the customer does not need to request the information. Instead, the supplier must draw his attention to any insufficient conformity work.
- Regulatory requirements are becoming more complex
- The importance of self-monitoring in companies is increasing
- Greater documentary monitoring
- More analytical spot checks
- Complying with legal requirements for food contact materials, including the packaging, is becoming more exacting
- Ongoing changes in the materials sector and packaging technology present new challenges for printers
- Each manufacturing and processing stage for food contact material must assume responsibility
- The food company/manufacturer is responsible for the food stuff
- The conformity declaration of the FCM producer is a legally binding means for compliance with the food regulation
As with packaging printers, label printers are also affected directly by the new EU food law. Depending on the label application, food manufacturers can now ask for GMP and conformity declarations. The hygiene regulation will also have a significant impact on ensuring label production complies with directives.
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