A new EU Regulation on materials and articles to come into contact with food is at the final stages of approval, having passed through the European Parliament legislative process. This, said Reilly, could result in a flood of food packaging that changes colour in response to temperature, can absorb moisture release and can give consumers information on the condition of the food they purchase.
This outlines that food contact materials are all materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs, including packaging materials but also cutlery, dishes, processing machines and containers.
"Under the previous regulations, this packaging could not have been introduced into the EU because the packaging had to be inert," said Reilly. "Amendments were agreed to specify some principles that should apply to active and intelligent packaging; for example, that the food industry must be informed of substances that would be deliberately released from packaging and that these should be identified on the label as if they were food ingredients."
'Active packaging' is used to prolong shelf life and inhibit the growth of microorganisms, while 'intelligent packaging' allows for monitors or displays on packaging to indicate the freshness of food or to indicate if frozen food has thawed during storage and transport.
But speaking at the joint committee on enterprise and small business yesterday, Reilly stressed that while 'intelligent packaging' would be a welcome development for consumer information and choice, there is a need for robust legislation to ensure that new innovations in food packaging do not cause risks to consumer health.
"Some food packaging can potentially transfer some of their constituents into the food they contact," he said. "The emphasis of legislation and enforcement must be focused on protecting consumer health by ensuring food contact materials are safe and should not transfer their components into the foodstuff in unacceptable quantities."
The FSAI has requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), through its Advisory Forum, to ensure that rigorous toxicological assessments are carried out on substances used to manufacture new packaging materials.
"The FSAI considers the potential contamination of food arising from food contact materials to be an area where continual industry diligence and official controls are essential to minimise the threat to public health and confidence in the safety of the food we eat," said Reilly. "Recent incidents, such as the contamination of baby food with a substance migrating from packaging materials, highlights the absolute need for legislative powers to be available to competent authorities in this regard.
"We also want to see adequate labelling on food stuffs to detail the materials in packaging so that consumers can make informed choices. These should ensure consumers are not misled about either the packaging or the condition of the packaged food they purchase. Active packaging would only be permitted to release substances authorised as food additives."
Reilly concluded that the FSAI broadly welcomes the new EU regulation and views it in a positive light. It suggests that it is mainly replacing a framework directive and subsequent amending directives that has been in place since 1989.
The regulation, said Reilly, provides for technological developments in relation to manufacturing of food contact materials that have taken place such as the development of active and intelligent packaging. It also introduces traceability requirements in relation to food contact materials.