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Active and Intelligent Packing World – Food safety feature

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Alan Davy, Director of Innovation at LINAC Packaging:

Active and intelligent packaging promises to make food safer, but to what extent is the safety of these new materials understood and accepted? 

"In simple terms, legislation has been crafted in such a way that companies wishing to bring these types of products to market have to carry out a risk assessment which is specific to their individual application.  This is carried out very much on a case by case basis as by their very nature, there cannot be any generalised rules.

“We believe that this current regime works well and is acceptable and appropriate, however we would make one caveat which is that this system is quite complex for a producer such as LINPAC. When we want to use these types of material we are obliged to make the risk assessments and carry out trials ourselves as it is difficult to get third party companies to warrant or certify that our product is safe and appropriate.”

Can you outline the current food contact issues that are facing the packaging industry?

“In regards to the plastics packaging industry the new PIM (Plastics Implementation Measure) is very current after being introduced in the early part of this year. It is being used to harmonise all the pre-existing addendums and prior regulations (2002/72) to simplify the legislation on the plastic food contact requirements.  As an industry, plastics is in pretty good shape but I am not sure if the same can be said for the packaging industry as a whole, there could be some tough times ahead.”
The use of more recycled materials in packaging has been a focus for some time. What is your view of the food safety issues when using recycled components for food packaging?

“The processes we use on every site at LINPAC are suitable for EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) accreditation and we are in the process of applying and going through the procedures to achieve this. On this basis, we believe we are in very good shape in terms of guaranteeing food safety.  However, not everyone is as diligent as LINPAC and this is a key challenge for the industry.

“There is a raft of producers who try to comply with the recycling regulations of food safety under the auspices of a concept known as ‘functional barrier’. The functional barrier concept is where you put a layer of virgin material on either side of the recycled core, fine in principal but for cost reasons some producers try to minimise the thickness of the functional barrier.  This process is not scrutinised or subjected to the same rigorous testing and accreditation requirements as the process LINPAC uses for its recycled products (super clean process). The functional barrier concept is a much more weakly policed branch of the regulations. There is nothing wrong with the concept but it should be subjected to testing and accreditation in the same way that the complete food super cleaning systems are.”

Has the packaging backlash subsided as people now realise some products simply need packaging in order to be transported and also ensure they are safe to eat?

“There is still a great deal of negativity when it comes to the packaging industry. Many people still do not understand that some degree of packaging is needed to guarantee quality and safety of products. It is possibly the toughest battle we face but it is up to companies like LINPAC to beat the drum that says that if plastic packaging didn’t exist and were invented today it would be considered a green technology. Imagine a world without packaging and then a world with packaging to protect and preserve food – packaging clearly has a lot of benefits in terms of reducing food waste and being convenient for consumers and retailers.”

Consumers want choice, convenience and safe food all wrapped in minimal packaging that is easily recycled. Can all these elements reconcile themselves into packaging that meets these demands now or in the near future?

“There is a tension between all those elements. Consumers and companies have different priorities and requirements. If you were to talk to the recycling industry, waste management companies, and indeed to the environment agency and consumers, they would all argue for rationalised choices of packaging materials to facilitate recycling. However using this rationale could lead to an increase in the weight and carbon footprint of packaging and would not necessarily serve to make the packaging more convenient for consumers, retailers or packers.

“The packaging industry must continue to be allowed to choose those packaging solutions which deliver maximum protection for minimum cost and carbon footprint notwithstanding the fact that this might lead to downsizing in terms of recyclables.”
Many active and intelligent packaging technologies - oxygen scavengers, moisture absorbers, barrier films etc. - promise greater shelf life, but what food safety risks do these technologies also have?

“On a case by case basis these technologies will have been risk assessed and proven to be safe under current legislation before being applied. The benefits of these technologies will also have been assessed under current legislation as it allows for this.”

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Tel: 0845 4503210.