Food contact materials are a ubiquitous part of a food’s lifecycle, whether during storage of materials (tanks, silos, etc.), food manufacturing (work surfaces, conveyor belts, machines, etc.) or in the packaging, pots or boxes containing the food. It is necessary to ensure that these materials are not a source of health risks. The quality and safety level of food contact materials is therefore defined by law at both national and EU level.
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Updated on 21/09/2016
Food contact materials : Types of materials and regulations
Keywords : Materials and objects in contact with food
The quality of products and services in France is governed by the French Consumer Code of 1993 (1). According to this text, the person initially responsible for placing a product on the market must ensure that it complies with the applicable rules (general obligation of compliance). It is therefore the supplier of the raw materials who must guarantee to its customer their suitability for food contact by providing a written declaration of conformity, issued by an accredited laboratory. At European level, a general Regulation (2) defines the characteristics of materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs.
The basis of this regulation is the inertia principle, according to which the material must not transfer to food any constituents in amounts that may represent a risk to the consumer or that may change the organoleptic qualities or composition of the food. The inertia of the material in the regulatory sense relates primarily to physico-chemical inertia.
Types of food contact materials
The general Regulation distinguishes 17 types of materials that may come into contact with food: plastics (including varnishes and coatings), regenerated cellulose, elastomers and rubber, paper and cardboard, ceramics, glass, metals and alloys, wood, textiles, paraffin waxes and microcrystalline waxes, active materials and articles, adhesives, cork, ion exchange resins, printing inks, silicone, and varnishes and coatings.
Certain types of materials are, moreover, subject to specific regulations clarifying this general regulation via specific directives. Accordingly, three types of materials are subject to harmonised regulations at European level, namely plastics , ceramics , and rubbers .
Others are subject only to national legislation in the absence of harmonised European regulations: silicones (Order of 25 November 1992), rubber materials (Order of 9 November 1994), stainless steel (Order of January 13, 1976) and aluminium (Order of 27 August 1987).
The substances that make up these materials must also comply with one of these rules
A list of authorised substances for the manufacture of materials is included in each regulation. This list is supplemented by information on their conditions and restrictions of use and purity criteria.
For substances subject to European regulations, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the body responsible for the health assessment of new substances intended to be used in the manufacture of food contact materials and therefore their possible inclusion in the list of authorised substances.
For materials that have not been harmonised at European level, the assessment is conducted at the national level. In France, this assessment is performed by ANSES.
Finally, for materials that are not subject to any specific national or European regulations, the general Regulation prevails.
Guides to good manufacturing practice
To compensate for the lack of specific regulations and facilitate application of the general Regulation, some professional sectors took the initiative to write guides to good manufacturing practice that comply with the general European Regulation. These are voluntary implementation documents. They are assessed by the Member States to ensure they have been developed in compliance with the regulations and that their content can be put into practice in the sector for which they are intended.
In France, they are sent to ANSES for an Opinion. If this Opinion is positive, they are presented to the French National Consumer Council (CNC) for information, before being published in the Official Journal.
(1) Articles L. 212-1 et seq thus update the former Act on Prevention of Fraud and Falsification of 1 August 1905
(2) Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 replaced Directive 89/109/EEC in 2004