Smithers conference covers global developments in food contact regulations and materials; speakers on day one review recent and upcoming changes to food packaging regulations in the US, Canada, and the South American trade bloc Mercosur
April 6, 2022 Lindsey Parkinson
On April 4, 2022, the food packaging consultancy Smithers opened its annual Global Food Contact conference bringing together regulatory and industry stakeholders to discuss developments and emerging issues in the food packaging world. The sessions this year were grouped by continent to get an overview of the regulatory landscape in each region, but recurring themes appeared across the different regions especially related to recycled plastics. Day one focused on the Americas. Speakers from the US, Canada, and the South American trade bloc Mercosur all provided an overview of the food contact regulations being developed in their regions.
Paul Honigfort, Director of the Division of Food Contact Substances in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), presented the reasoning behind the FDA’s recently published plan to update the food contact notification system (FCN, FPF reported). In the United States, food contact materials are treated to the same regulatory scrutiny as food additives. The only difference is how a substance can be revoked: While authorized substances on the food additives list can be removed for three reasons – safety concerns, abandonment, and “experience with the existing regulation,” food contact substances can currently only be revoked when there is new safety information.
The lack of options for food contact substances can lead to trouble. According to Honigfort, “this does cause some issues for the agency because demonstrating that something is no longer safe is a somewhat arduous process.” This is also an issue for companies. An FCN is tied to a particular company and manufacturing process. But because safety is the only reason a chemical can be removed, even if a company stops using a substance (abandonment), the FCN cannot be removed. Due to these constraints, no FCN has ever been removed from the FDA’s list – not even PFAS.
The FDA had authorized long-chain PFAS in greaseproof paper in the 1970s. But most of the FDA’s requirements for food contact substances do not require information on persistence, “as a result of that, FDA believed [in 2011] there was a lack of evidence for safety.” Instead of undertaking expensive tests on persistence, manufacturers voluntarily agreed to take long-chain PFAS off the market. Without the evidence for persistence, even though the companies do not want to use those chemicals, technically the FCNs are still effective. With the update to the FDA’s process now being proposed, “abandonment should be a very straightforward way to keep our system current.”
The FDA’s planned update to the FCN system is open for comments until April 11.
Zhongwen Wang, a scientific evaluator at Canada’s Bureau of Chemical Safety within Health Canada, provided an overview of Canada’s food safety regulatory system with a particular focus on how Health Canada reviews the safety of food packaging products. In Canada, food contact materials can be voluntarily submitted for a compliance assessment before entering the market. After a thorough chemical safety evaluation, Health Canada can publish a letter of no objection (LONO) which is intended to communicate that Health Canada “has no objection to the use of a subject product in food packaging applications for which it is intended.” A LONO is only given when 100% of the ingredients in the material are shared with Health Canada. Wang stated that in most cases not enough information is provided when manufacturers first apply for a letter “so we will go through several rounds before a LONO is given.” The waiting time between an application for a LONO and receiving the letter varies, but Health Canada prioritizes applications for materials that align with government priorities. “In recent years recycled plastic is our top priority so we will give priority to recycled plastic submissions.”
Following recent work in Europe on titanium dioxide (TiO2, FPF reported), Health Canada has undertaken investigations in its market on that substance. Following a recent request for evidence, Wang said that a report from Health Canada on TiO2 in food additives is expected to be published within the next few months. The agency did not receive much information about TiO2 from food packaging, therefore the agency plans to monitor the substance but there are no definitive plans for a study or changes in regulation at this time.
The safety of mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) present in packaging was also recently raised by a German WTO notification in April of 2021 (FPF reported). The Bureau of Chemical Safety is planning to conduct an analysis on MOH in foods packaged in recycled paper. Health Canada is currently running surveillance of mineral oils in food packaging materials and may ask for more information from manufacturers about MOH even if a LONO was previously granted.
Alejandro Ariosti, from the National Institute of Industrial Technology – Plastics Centre in Argentina, discussed the different trade blocs within Central and South America and summarized the long-standing food packaging regulations as well as those regulations currently under review within Mercosur specifically. Ariosti said that in most cases Mercosur follows the European framework for regulating food packaging materials. In 2021, the bloc updated its food packaging regulations to adjust the overall migration limit for plastics to those in the EU’s EC 10/2011 Regulation (FPF reported). Substances on the Mercosur positive lists come from both the European Union and the US FDA.
Mercosur is currently working on an amendment for metals and alloys used in food packaging that is planned to be released later this year. Furthermore, the trade bloc is carrying out a second review of a paper and board resolution as well as drafting a regulation of silicones in food contact “because we are importing quite a lot into Mercosur,” Ariosti explained.
Post time: May-05-2022