The German authorities alerted the Commission through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) regarding the migration of 4-methylbenzophenone, a component of the inks used in the food packaging.
A German customer of a Belgian cereal manufacturer had discovered the presence of the chemical in the chocolate crunch muesli product at levels amounting to 798 μg/kilogram parts per billion (ppb) and notified the relevant authorities.
EFSA has been asked to evaluate the risk of the presence of 4-methylbenzophenone in food, and also whether the existing tolerable daily intake (TDI) for benzophenone and hydroxybenzophenone could also be applied to 4-methylbenzophenone.
Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, a spokesperson for EFSA explained that 4-methylbenzophenone and benzophenone are very similar substances: “They are both used as photo-initiators in the area of printing inks.”
The agency said that it intends to publish its advice by 3 March.
In addition, EFSA said that the Commission has also requested that the TDI for benzophenone and hydroxybenzophenone be reassesed in light of the toxicological studies published since the last assessment of the chemicals in 1992; the TDI for the two substances is currently set at 0.01mg/kilogram body weight (b.w.).
The agency said that an opinion from the panel on food contact materials, enzymes, flavourings and processing aids (CEF) on this issue is expected by the end of May 2009.
Food contact materials
Inks, according to the Commission, are not covered by specific European legislation on food contact materials. However the use of printing inks has to comply with the general rules of Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 and with good manufacturing practice (GMP) as laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006.
In relation to components of packaging such as inks, Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 states that under normal or foreseeable conditions of use they should not transfer their constituents to food in quantities which could endanger human health.
According to a 2006 study conducted by the UK Food Standards Authority (FSA), as part of Europe-wide research into the migration of printing inks and chemicals from packaging into the foods they protect, 61 out of 350 samples of foods analysed tested positive for benzophenone.
But the FSA stressed that the level of the chemical substance found in the 61 samples was below the maximum toxicological standard set by the Commission and did not pose a health risk.
Despite the fact that many of the packaging chemicals are not considered by scientists to be dangerous at the trace amounts found, consumer concern and general fears about daily exposure to a cocktail of compounds is increasing pressure on regulators and thus industry to try to eliminate or minimise their migration levels.
Frozen food packaging
FSA said its study showed there was some evidence that particular foods and printed packaging, together with storage conditions, may be associated with the likelihood of the packaging chemical getting into food, particularly frozen food.
The food safety agency stated at the time that migration of substances from printed paper or board packaging into foodstuffs stored at low temperature should thus be considered by food manufacturers and packaging companies when deciding on appropriate packaging formats.