Benzophenone still migrating into foods, says UK regulator

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Packaging Printing European union Ultraviolet Food standards agency

Processors have had limited success in reducing the migration of
benzophenone from packaging to foods, with 17 per cent of samples
testing positive for the printing chemical, according to a UK

The study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is a part of a EU-wide focus on the migration of printing inks and chemicals from packaging on to the foods they protect.

Many of the chemicals are not considered by scientists to be dangerous at the trace amounts found. However consumer concern and general fears about daily exposure to a cocktail of compounds has led to a regulatory push to eliminate or minimise migration levels.

The concerns were heightened last November when Nestle had to make recalls of millions of litres of baby milk in Italy and other countries after another chemical used in printing,isopropylthioxanthone (ITX), was found to have migrated into the product from the packaging. A draft EU law proposed after the crisis is currently under debate.

In the UK study benzophenonewas confirmed in 61 of the 350 samples tested in a study conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which released the results yesterday.

The study also tested foods for the presence of 4-hydroxybenzophenone, another printing chemical, and found none. The levels of benzophenone found in the 61 samples of foods was below the maximum toxicological standard set by an European Commission scientific committee and do not pose a health risk, the FSA stated.

Following a previous survey on the packaging chemical in 2000, the FSA asked industry to keep migration to a minimum. The new study found the highest level of benzophenone measured in food had fallen to 4.5 mg/kg from the 7.3 mg/kg found in the 2000 study.

" Limited success has been achieved since then,"​ the agency said.

In addition to the primary findings, the FSA found little evidence of benzophenone in foods to which a printed label has been attached to the primary packaging.

"There was some evidence that particular foods and printed packaging formats, together with storage conditions, may be associated with the likelihood of the chemical getting into food, particularly frozen food,"​ the FSA found.

Migration from printed paper or board packaging into foodstuffs stored at low temperature should be considered by food manufacturers and packers when deciding appropriate packaging formats, the FSA advised.

The regulator plans to discuss the findings with frozen food manufacturers and packers in a bid to help them minimise the risk of chemicals getting into food from printed packaging.

The study focused on testing foods that may have been exposed to benzophenone or4-hydroxybenzophenone as chemical migrants from either primary or secondary printed packaging. Thesurvey was conducted in two phases.

In phase One, 350 foodstuffs were tested that had been packaged directly or indirectly in printedpaper or board, either virgin or recycled. The survey also including packaging to which a printedsticky label was attached. In phase two, 115 foodstuffs packaged in printed plastic were tested.

All samples tested in phase two complied with the packaging regulations. The presence ofbenzophenone was confirmed in four of the 115 samples packaged in printed plastic. The maximum levelfound was 0.15 mg/kg, one quarter of the specific migration limit permitted, the FSA stated.

Benzophenone is a chemical that is sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light is used to toughen the coating of and seal, or 'cure', the inks and lacquers that are traditionally used in lithographic and letterpress printing processes.

Benzophenone may be in cartonboard food packaging materials as a residue from UV-cured inks and lacquers used to print on thepackaging, the FSA stated. Benzophenone may also be present in printed secondary packaging, such as corrugated board, and sometimes in recycled printed paper or board.

"It has been shown that benzophenone may migrate from such secondary packaging, through the packaging layer in direct contact with food, into the food itself. UV inks have also been reported to be used to print onlabels,"​ the FSA stated.

Hydroxybenzophenone may be used in the same way as benzophone and is sold as an additive for UV coatings.

There are no specific EU controls for migration from inks and their associated coatings, butthere is a Group Tolerable Daily Intake (Group TDI) for benzophenone and 4-hydroxybenzophenone of0.01 milligram/kilogram (mg/kg) bodyweight (bw). There is specific legislation for food contactplastics, directive 2002/72/EC, which sets a specific migration limit (SML) for benzophenone of 0.6mg/kg

Public and regulatory scrutiny became focused on packaging chemicals last November after Italy'sregulators confiscated millions of litres of Nestlé baby milk due to the discovery that a printingchemical from a Tetra Pak package had migrated into the product.

Nestlé subsequently was forced by court order in Italy to make a recall of about two millionlitres of its Nidina and Latte Mio brands, even thought the EU's food agency found at the chemicalposed no danger to human health at the levels found in the products.

The recall was extended to France, Spain and Portugal. Dutch group Numico was also involved inrecalling some of its products. The crisis subsequently exposed a loophole in food law, as there wasno EU-wide regulation setting limits on benign contact materials.

The issue over ITX also highlighted the uncertainty surrounding current legislation in the EU over the food industry's use of packaging chemicals, a problem that is meant to be fixed under a proposed directive on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (Reach), approved by the bloc's parliament earlier this year.

Currently the EU relies on a negative list to regulate the use of chemicals. This means any chemical not on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) blacklist can normally be used for packaging food.

Current EU regulation requires that all food packaging materials shall be manufactured incompliance with what the law defines as "good manufacturing practice" (GMP). Proposed EUlegislation made after the Nestlé recall would define the manufacturing practices the bloc'sprocessors would have to take in ensuring that packaging materials do not migrate into foods.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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