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Kitchenware and food contact materials, test conditions in EU

The JRC (Joint Research Center) has published the fourth edition of the guidelines which define the test conditions of kitchen items (materials in contact with food) in plastic, silicone and rubber, metals, paper and cardboard, for the purpose of comparability of the results of the analyzes conducted by the EU Member State authorities in the context of official controls. (1,2,3)

The document – ​​created by EU Reference Laboratory for Food Contact Materials (EURL-FCM), in synergy with i National Reference Laboratories (NRLs) – is dedicated to Materials and Objects intended for Food Contact (FCM) for domestic use. Also as a basis for analyzes on articles intended for professional and industrial use, where temperature and contact times may vary.

1) Food Contact Materials, the context of the rules in the European Union

The European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen – as we have seen (4,5) – failed to carry out the long-awaited comprehensive reform of the EU rules on Food Contact Materials. Which still represent one jeopardized legislation, a ramshackle legislation based on:

– general criteria, introduced by Food Contact Materials Regulation (EU) No 1935/04, (6)

– harmonized rules on plastic materials only, including recycled ones (7,8).

The discipline of any other category of materials in contact with food – e.g. metals (9,10,11), wood (12), rubbers and silicones (13), paper and cardboard (14,15), printing inks (16) – instead remains entrusted to the rare national regulations, or to the recommendations of the Council of Europe, where available.

2) The role of the guidelines of the European and national reference laboratories

the work of EURL-FCM and NRLs helps to fill, at least in part, the serious gaps highlighted above. The guidelines in question are in fact part of a broader activity of EURL-FCM and NRLs on materials in contact with food, with the dual purpose of defining:

– shared technical specifications for the execution of official controls, pursuant to the Official Controls Regulation (EU) No 2017/625 (2,3)

– harmonized ways of carrying out the conformity tests on food contact materials (FCM).

The operators of the supply chain and the control authorities - in the absence of specific rules on the various materials - can therefore refer to the test conditions provided for in the EURL-FCM and NRLs guidelines. Also for the purpose of applying the General Product Safety Regulation (EU) No 2023/998 (see paragraph 4 below). These guidelines, while not having a binding legal nature, in fact express a qualified scientific consensus on:

– contaminants and toxic chemicals to be analyzed to ensure the safety of food contact materials and so does public health (17,18),

– test conditions (and therefore food simulants to be used, temperatures and contact times) to verify the migration of dangerous substances into the various foods.

3) Kitchen items, test conditions for official inspections in the EU

The test conditions for kitchen items are based on the 'worstcase' predictable, in terms of temperature and times of food contact with materials of various kinds. We therefore consider:

– consumer expectations on how to use kitchen items based on their appearance, shape, materials, functionality. Instead of referring only to the indications of the manufacturers,

– the tendency of consumers to make the same use of a specific tool, regardless of the material it is made of. The guidelines thus recommend, wherever possible, identical test conditions for different materials.

3.1) The materials considered

Plastic and kitchen items containing plastic. EURL-FCM and NRLs refer to the principles and criteria established in Reg. (EU) No 10/2011 (Annex V, paragraphs 2.1.3, 2.1.4, 3.1) also to define the test conditions of other materials.

Metals and alloys. The recommendation is recalled 'Metals and alloys used in food contact materials and articles', published by the Council of Europe,

Paper and cardboard. Also in this case we refer to a recommendation of the Council of Europe, 'Paper and Board used in food contact materials and articles’,

Silicone and rubber. In the absence of European rules and recommendations, the criteria established for plastics apply.

Paper and cardboard represent the novelty of this version of the guideline. Since i food contact materials paper or cardboard often do not withstand test conditions and food simulants expected for plastics, EURL-FCM and NRLs indicate alternative test conditions.

3.2) Analysis criteria

The tables distinguish 'main class' and 'subclass' of the different materials considered. Moreover, the regulations in force, beyond rare cases, do not provide for mandatory and exhaustive lists of the materials that can be used in the manufacture of food contact materials. Consequently, FCMs (MOCA) made of materials not considered in the tables remain without harmonized test conditions.

The analysis criteria to be applied to the migration tests include other elements useful to ensure the effectiveness and comparability of the test results, such as:

– sample preparation. Depending on the case, it is recommended to carry out the tests on intact, cut kitchenware or parts thereof,

– type of test. In the various circumstances, the tests are carried out by filling the article or by total immersion of the FCMs (MOCA) in food simulants, analysis on the migration cell. i.e. actual use is considered, for kitchen items assembled and considered as a single piece (as separation of components is difficult and operating conditions are expected to be different from 'worst foreseeable use conditions'),

– type of simulant. It refers to the food simulants listed in Annex III to Reg. (EU) 10/2011. Namely simulant A 10% (v/v) ethanol, simulant B 3% (w/v) acetic acid, simulant C 20% (v/v) ethanol; simulant D1 ethanol 50% (v/v), simulant D2 vegetable oil, simulant E poly(2,6-diphenyl-p-phenylene oxide),

– considerations on the surface-volume ratio to be used for calculating the result. Eg real relationship, as required by article 17 of Regulation (EU) no. 10/2011; actual child/young adult, 6 dm2/kg of food for small (volume < 0,5L) or very large (volume > 10L) FCMs, i.e. when it is difficult to determine the amount of food that comes into contact.

3.3) Tables

The contents of the tables of the document in question are summarized in the diagram below.

3.4) Selection of test conditions and food simulants

The shape, the material and the function of an FCM to be used as a household kitchen utensil affect the determination of its foreseeable use by the final consumer. It is considered that in most cases the use of a tool is the same, regardless of the material in which it is made. The same test conditions are therefore recommended – generally and subject to specific notes on metals, paper and cardboard – for the different materials in contact with food.

Where simulants proposed foods are not appropriate for the material, specific migration tests should be performed on foods. The related results prevail over those obtained in food simulants.

The selection of conditions test and food simulants follows the approach described in the decision tree below.

 

4) General Product Safety Regulation (EU) No 2023/998

The security of kitchen items and utensils, as well as the generality of materials and objects intended to come into contact with food, it is recalled, is also subject today to the provisions introduced by the General Product Safety Regulation (EU) No 2023/998. (19)

Dario Dongo and Paolo Rebolini

Footnotes

(1) Beldi, G., Senaldi, C., Robouch, P. and Hoekstra, E., Testing conditions for kitchenware articles in contact with foodstuffs: plastics metals, silicone and rubber, paper and board. https://tinyurl.com/ycy4m7yy Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2023. doi:10.2760/80698, JRC134290

(2) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Official public controls, EU regulation 2017/625 is underway. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.12.19

(3) Dario Dongo, Giulia Pietrollini. Official controls, European Commission guidelines on reg. EU 2017/625. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.1.23

(4) Marta Strinati. Materials in contact with food, the snail-reform slips again. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.2.20

(5) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. EU consultation on MOCAs. The position of ISS. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.1.21

(6) Dario Dongo. Materials in contact, safety issue. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.9.18

(7) Luca Foltran. Contact materials, plastics. The new regulation. DO (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 6.2.18

(8) Marta Strinati. Recycled plastic in food packaging, new EU regulation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.9.22

(9) Dario Dongo, Luca Foltran. Stainless steel in MOCA, Ministry of Health decree and gaps in Europe. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.8.19

(10) Dario Dongo. Bronze drawn pasta? The Antitrust collects information. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.7.21

(11) Marta Strinati. Aluminum and food, how to reduce the risk of contamination. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.12.19

(12) Dario Dongo. Brass, wood and other materials in contact with food. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.8.21

(13) Marta Strinati. Safety of silicone baking moulds, tests on 44 products. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.1.23

(14) Dario Dongo, Luca Foltran. Contaminants in materials in contact with food, paper, cardboard and inks. BEUC report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.8.19

(15) Marta Strinati. Paper and cardboard packaging for food, toxic substances in 80% of cases. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.2.21

(16) Dario Dongo, Luca Foltran. Printing inks in MOCAs, regulatory experiences in Europe. Waiting for common rules. DO (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 26.3.17

(17) Marta Strinati. OpenFoodTox, the EFSA database on chemicals in food and feed. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.8.21

(18) Marta Strinati. Endocrine disruptors, new database reveals Brussels omissions. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.6.20

(19) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. General Product Safety Regulation, at the starting line in the European Union. The ABC. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.5.23

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

PAUL REBOLINI
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Food technologist expert in production and distribution of food and packaging, with a focus on quality management and food safety. Third party auditor for the international standard BRCGS packaging and trainer Approved Trainer Partner of BRCGS.

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