FSA publishes report on food safety of bio-based food packaging materials

From farm to fork, food travels in different types of packaging and is sold to consumers in packaging to protect its freshness, food safety and supply chain integrity. However, some contaminants in particular types of packaging have come into question, recently, which may pose a health risk.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published a report of a literature review looking at the risks posed by bio-based food contact materials (BBFCMs). The FSA wanted to understand any potential risks that could be caused by bio-based food packaging. Bio-based food packaging may be used for packaging food products in place of oil-based (fossil-fuel) plastic food packaging.

The key finding of the study states that:

‘Polypeptide-based materials used for packaging may include substances that are known or suspected allergens or are extracted from matrices that contain allergens. The effects of processing to produce packaging materials may alter allergenicity in unpredictable ways, depending on whether the allergenic epitopes are destroyed or revealed, for example due to conformational changes of the polypeptides. Very limited information is available on the allergenicity of BBFCMs as well as the potential for transfer of allergens to food.’

This means that traces of allergens have been found in bio-based food packaging, and therefore, require more testing to ensure that bio-based materials do not pose a risk to consumer health.

More key finding from the FSA report include:

1.Limited research has been undertaken into the development of BBFCMs derived from agri-food by-products, and the associated risks to the consumer.

2.BBFCMs can exhibit barrier properties similar to traditional fossil-based plastics enabling comparable shelf life performance and consumer protection.

3.Information on the presence of inorganic contaminants such as heavy metals, persistent organic contaminants and natural toxins in BBFCMs, and their capacity to transfer from biomass-derived BBFCMs into food, is required.

4.Current analytical methods and risk assessment processes for establishing contaminant chemical transfer from fossil-based plastics to food are expected to be appropriate for or adaptable to BBFCMs.

Soon, we will see an increase in production of BBCFMs as an alternative to oil-based packaging, therefore the FSA recommends that the usable functional life of a BBFCM should also be established and stated to ensure that the expected shelf life of food products can be achieved. Whilst also considering, developing and standardising new analytical procedures for BBFCMs, to ensure these materials meet the regulations for use in the supply chain so the potential risks posed to consumer safety by BBFCMs can be evaluated.

Read the full report here: Bio-based materials for use in food contact applications. Fera project number FR/001658. Report to the Food Standards Agency.