HomePackaging and MOCABrass, wood and other materials in contact with food

Brass, wood and other materials in contact with food

The recent question on bronze or brass pasta dies, (1) together with the one that recurs cyclically on wooden cutting boards and utensils, (2) deserves an in-depth study on materials allowed in contact with food (MOCA).

White Paper on Food, Feed and MOCA Safety

The European discipline of materials, substances and objects intended to come into contact with food is rooted in the EC regulation 1935/2004, cd Food Contact Materials Regulation. A regulatory text mirroring the so-called General Food Law (EC Reg. 178/02), the issue of which was indicated as a priority in the White Paper for Food Safety (European Commission, 12.2.00).

The European legislator - in the aforementioned regulations, as well as in those that form the so-called Hygiene Package (reg. CE 853, 854/04 and subsequent), simultaneously applied in the entire internal market, through a unitary discipline - designated food safety as the priority objective of the European food law.

The key principles risk analysis and integrated supply chain responsibility are used to guarantee a high level of food safety in the EU. The primary responsibility of the operators of the supply chains involved from farm to fork - including those of feed (EC regulation 183/06) and MOCA, without excluding intermediate actors (eg. import, logistics) - therefore has a central role and must be guaranteed through the application of suitable self-control procedures (Good Manufacturing Practices, GMPs, and Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points, HACCP).

Food, feed and MOCA. Approval criteria for the various substances

Foods, feed and their ingredients (according to the definition in EC regulation 178/02, article 2) have been subjected to exhaustive and mandatory regulations. That is to say that the placing on the internal market of 'novel foods' (Novel Food) is subject to prior European authorization (pursuant to EC regulation 258/97, repealed by subsequent EU regulation 2015/2283), as well as new feed ingredients and their additives.

The cd Food Improvement Agents (additives, flavors and enzymes. Reg. CE 1331-1334 / 08), the ingredients and additives for feed, genetically modified organisms intended for use in food and feed (Reg. EC 1829, 1830/03) are in turn subject to a specific centralized authorization procedure at European level.

MOCAs - materials and objects intended to come into contact with food, vice versa - are not subject to prior European authorization. With the exception of the cases of active and intelligent packaging, as defined by reg. CE 1935/04 (article 2, paragraph 2, letters 'a' and 'b'), on the other hand subject to specific requirements and specific authorization procedure (EC regulation 450/09).

Materials and objects intended to come into contact with food (MOCA), the European regulation

The reg. CE 1935/04 establishes the general criteria with which the MOCAs must comply, as well as must be produced in compliance with the Good Manufacturing Practices applicable to each production sector, with specific reference to the different categories of materials (article 3, paragraph 1). 'All materials, substances and objects intended to come into contact with food, under normal or foreseeable conditions of use, must not transfer any of their components (of nature and) to food products in such quantities as to:

a) constitute a danger to human health,

b) lead to an unacceptable change in the composition of the food,

c) lead to a deterioration of their organoleptic characteristics.

The labeling, advertising and presentation of a material or object must not mislead consumers'(EC reg. 1935/04, article 7, paragraph 2).

In relation to individual groups of materials and objects listed in the annex - which include metals and alloys, as well as wood (Annex I, points 8 and 17) - the European Commission simply has the right to introduce and / or modify specific measures ( reg. CE 1935, article 5).

MOCA, concurrent legislation and regulations in force in Italy

Il Food Contact Materials Regulation limits the scope of concurrent legislation to only specific measures on single materials and objects and / or their groups, in the absence of harmonized measures (EC regulation 1935, article 6). The individual Member States therefore have the right to maintain or adopt national provisions, in the specific context of the groups of materials and objects in Annex I to reg. CE 1935/04, provided that they comply with the TFEU (Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union). With consequent duty of notification of national technical regulations, under penalty of their inapplicability, pursuant to dir. EU 2015/2135.

The national discipline coeval dates back, in its general terms, to the ministerial decree of 21.3.1973. (4) This decree - adopted in a historical period prior to the new course of European food law - provided for a positive list of materials admitted to contact with food, limited to some of their categories:

a) plastics,
b) rubber,
c) regenerated cellulose,
d) paper and cardboard,
e) glass,
f) stainless steel.

Regulatory updates

In the interminable waiting of a systematic and organic reform of the discipline of Food Contact Materials at European level, (5) some Member States have continued the specific regulation of certain categories of materials not yet subject to harmonized standards.

The Ministry of Health in Italy in turn - after having clarified that the regulation (EC) 1935/04 exceeds the Ministerial Decree 21.3.73, as regards specifically the limits of use of MOCA not contemplated in the positive (and partial) list provided therein - has adopted numerous circulars, in the 48 years that have passed since then. (6)

Conformity of metals other than stainless steel

MOCAs in stainless steel have been the subject of a specific technical discipline, in Italy, with Ministerial Decree 9.5.19 n. 72. (7) The remaining ones'objects in metal alloys and on objects coated with porcelain enamel intended for contact with food'instead follow the criteria indicated in the circular of the Ministry of Health 20.5.14. Where it has been clarified that metal alloys - in the absence of specific harmonized measures - can be used in MOCAs on condition of verifying their compliance with the general criteria established in reg. CE 1935/04.

Conformity assessment - pursuant to article 3 of the aforementioned regulation, the ministry specifies - it must be carried out on a case-by-case basis. Having regard to three essential factors:

- knowledge of the metal alloy,
- knowledge of the type of food for which the object is intended,
- assessment of the risk of any migration in the food (or type of food) indicated, in conditions of use that are as consistent as possible with the actual conditions of use.

Dario Dongo


(1) Dario Dongo. Bronze drawn pasta? The Antitrust collects information. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.7.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/pasta-trafilata-a-bronzo-l-antitrust-raccoglie-informazioni

(2) Marta Strinati. Plastic or wooden cutting boards? 12 to the test of bacterial contamination. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 7.4.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/imballaggi-e-moca/taglieri-in-plastica-o-legno-12-alla-prova-della-contaminazione-batterica

(3) For further information seeebook 'Food safety, mandatory rules and voluntary standards', up https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/libri/sicurezza-alimentare-regole-cogenti-e-norme-volontarie-il-nuovo-libro-di-dario-dongo

(4) Ministry of Health. Ministerial Decree 21 March 1973, concerning the hygiene regulations of packaging, containers, utensils intended to come into contact with food substances or substances for personal use. Consolidated version at 6.8.21 on Normattiva, v. https://bit.ly/3AlbB2n

(5) Marta Strinati. Materials in contact with food, the snail-reform slips again. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.2.20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/imballaggi/materiali-a-contatto-con-gli-alimenti-la-riforma-lumaca-slitta-ancora

(6) Min Sal. Materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/temi/p2_6.jsp?id=1173&area=sicurezzaAlimentare&menu=chimica

(7) Dario Dongo, Luca Foltran. Stainless steel in MOCA, Ministry of Health decree and gaps in Europe. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.8.19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/imballaggi/acciaio-inox-nei-moca-decreto-ministero-salute-e-lacune-in-europa

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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