different types of food packaging

3 Reasons why food quality and safety can be compromised by packaging materials

29 July 2022 | Lynneric Potter, Food Packaging Technical Lead and Danielle Cawdron, Section Manager

Food packaging plays a crucial role in the quality and safety of food products. From the processing line to consumers' shopping bags, it has to protect food from contamination and endure transportation, handling and storage without any damage.

As new food products are launched every week, the packaging needs of food manufacturers are becoming more challenging. The launch of new plant-based formulations (mushrooms, seaweed and different types of cellulose) or new types of composite packaging (coated board), could potentially increase the risk of packaging failure. The best way to minimise this risk is with testing.

Although packaging suppliers will do their own tests, it's the responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure that the packaging they use is the right one for the type of food and its storage conditions and that it complies with food contact materials regulations.

Testing will help manufacturers prevent three issues that can compromise quality and safety of food products.

1. Transfer of constituents

Chemical substances used in the manufacture of food contact materials (FCMs) have the ability to migrate and therefore contaminate packaged foods. Typical sources of these chemicals can be plastic monomers, constituents of adhesives, coating and/or printing inks and will include both intentionally added as well as known and unknown non-intentionally added substances (NIAS).

There are several pieces of legislation applicable to food contact materials in the EU. Currently, not all materials have specific migration requirements. Demonstration of compliance is obligatory for all FCMs regulated by EU regulations or directives; materials excluded from EU measures may be subject to national legislation but all FCMs must comply with the framework legislation 1935/2004.

According to the Framework EU regulation 1935/2004 which lays down the general safety requirements for FCMs, migration should be controlled so it will not pose a risk to human health, alter the composition of food or cause a deterioration of taste, odour or colour of the food.

Migration compliance testing is one tool that can be used to establish that constituents of material are not migrating at levels which pose a risk to human health. To date, by far the most well-developed material specific EU measure is Regulation 10/2011 for plastic materials and articles intended for contact with food. This regulation assigns food simulants and testing conditions to be used in compliance testing designed to mimic the intended final application of the food contact material. These food simulants represent the most important properties of differing foods with respect to migration and represent all food types whether that is dry, acidic, aqueous or fatty.

In addition, EU regulation 10/2011 mandates a positive list of union substances which took many years to develop and now contains over 1000 substances; it establishes specific migration limits (SMLs) for substances based on available toxicity data and if no such data exists assigns a default SML of 0.01mgkg. Where substances on the list are found in other categories of food contact materials and where no harmonised legislation exists (for example printing inks/paper board), both regulators and business operators use the SMLs laid down in regulation 10/2011.

Ultimately, food contact materials manufacturers and suppliers need to have evidence that articles placed on the market are safe and compliant with relevant food contact legislation.

2. Lack of pack integrity

There are different issues that might cause lack of pack integrity. The most common are: seal contamination, wrong sealing parameters, incompatibility of the materials or use of the wrong adhesive. Seals might also break during processing or handling of the product.

The first step to prevent these issues is to pre-emptively test the seals to make sure they were designed and manufactured with the right criteria in the first place. This is particularly important with the double seams of metal cans, where the can wall and the end are interlocked together. When the critical parameters of the double seams have not been met (for example, seam thickness or tightness rating), they might not be completely airtight, leaving the door open to microorganisms.

3. Insufficient barrier properties

Although excess of porosity in packaging material (especially plastics) will still protect food from microorganisms, it could let too much oxygen or moisture pass through, creating quality issues. The food product could go rancid, soggy, dry or lose most of its aroma.

Testing of barrier properties will measure the rate of oxygen and moisture that pass through a given time, temperature and humidity level.

How can we help?

The Campden BRI packaging team has extensive experience in packaging testing and development for all materials, including new types of composite packaging. In addition, the packaging and food contact teams have merged to provide clients with a single point of contact for all packaging needs.

Our tests are carried out considering all external variables, such as processing conditions, product formulation and storage temperature. In particular, we can help packaging and food manufacturers with:

  • Migration testing
  • Consulting on regulatory requirements for specific markets
  • Double seam assessment
  • Root cause analysis in case of pack and seal integrity issues along with extensive testing.
Lynneric Potter

About Lynneric Potter

Lynneric Potter is a food packaging specialist within the Department of Food Manufacturing Technologies at Campden BRI where she has worked since 1999. Lynneric’s main activities involve consultancy and testing of packaging materials to ensure they are fit for purpose.

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Danielle Cawdron

About Danielle Cawdron

Danielle Cawdron joined Campden BRI in 2009 as a technician in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department having graduated with a Masters degree in Chemistry.

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How can we help you?

If you’d like to find out more about packaging materials, contact our support team to find out how we can help.

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