Benzophenone from packaging taints Italian couscous

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Printing European union European food safety authority

German safety authorities have seized tonnes of couscous from Italy that were contaminated after the chemical benzophenone leached from the packaging.

Higher than permitted levels of the chemical were detected in 15,620 cartons of the foodstuff, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) told Some 7.8 tonnes of the product were immediately withdrawn by retailers and wholesalers after the problem was discovered by official inspections.

On July 13, Germany notified the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) that levels of the chemical reaching 1559 µg/kg had been detected in the couscous imported from Italy,


Benzophenone and 4-methylbenzophenone (4-MBP) are used in food packaging as initiators for printing inks cured by UV radiation. Due to their volatility they can migrate through the packaging to the food if there is no functional barrier, said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The substances were a cause of Europe-wide concern last year after Germany and Belgium reported the chemicals had leached into breakfast cereals. In May 2009, EFSA concluded that for adults the estimated exposure from the chemicals in the cereal was unlikely to be a health hazard but that this could not be ruled out for children.

In the wake of the 2009 alert both the European Printing Ink Association and the European Carton Board Manufacturers recommended to their members that printing inks containing 4-MBP and BP were not suitable for printing of food packaging unless a functional barrier is present that blocks the transfer into food also via the gasphase.

The European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health recommended that food contact materials printed with inks containing benzophenone or 4-MBP should not be brought in contact with foods unless the company could verify the migration into food was below 0.6 mg per kg food.

Glass in jam

In a separate incident from mid-July, the BVL said consumers had raised the alarm after glass fragments were discovered in low calorie strawberry jam with fructose.

The authority’s investigation found 4.9 tonnes of the German-made jam in more than 15,000 units were affected by the alert. The product was withdrawn by wholesalers and retailers after a consumer complaint. No illnesses or ill-effects were recorded as a result of the contamination. The jam is reported to have been exported to Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal.

BVL spokesman Andreas Tief confirmed that investigations at the manufacturing company were on-going and that further measures would be taken if necessary.

Related topics Food safety & quality

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