Food industry should ‘question chemical migration in packaging’

Migration rules for chemicals through packaging many need to be reviewed

The assumptions on which key chemical migration modelling though packaging walls is based – specifically of aromatic compounds into aqueous foods – need to be reassessed urgently, according to a French research team.

Scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and other institutes re-examined results collected more than a decade ago, on which much current migration modelling rests.

“Modelling is used in more than two-thirds of food safety assessments,” said lead author Olivier Vitrac of INRA. Typically, it is applied to estimates of ‘specific migration’ rather than ‘overall migration’.

“But we deduced that the rules that we use in modelling are not safe, and we are urging EU regulators to review them.”

‘Urging EU regulators to review them’

The research, conducted at the University of Paris-Saclay, suggested that the true chemical affinity of substituted aromatic compounds for water may have been “strongly underestimated”.

The team claimed that these “oversimplified rules” should be replaced and said it had developed a new and fast technique to compute the extent to which aromatics dissolved in other liquids.

The new method could provide solubility estimates in just a few minutes, said Vitrac. “The industry needed to address today’s loose, outdated food packaging rules as soon as possible,” he added.

‘Outdated food packaging rules’

The paper, published in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, looked at the behaviour of random and block co-polymers.

Its results suggested that the impact of substances such as benzophenone, which has been identified as an endocrine disruptor, could have been underplayed in the past.

The role of benzophenone, used as a photoinitiator in ultraviolet-cured inks and coatings, was much debated around five years ago, when the European Printing Inks Association challenged calls for an unqualified ban on its use in food-industry applications.

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