Analyzing food packaging to ensure food safety

Food packaging and contact material compounds can migrate from the polymeric materials used in food and beverage packaging into the foods and beverages themselves. A packaging component should not release chemicals that can accumulate in the food or beverage product in quantities sufficient to present a risk for the consumers. Discover our solutions for the testing of these packaging chemicals in food and beverage samples.

Food and beverages arrive on the supermarket shelf in a number of packing forms. This can be in cardboard, paper, various forms of plastics and metal, to name a few. The food contact material itself is the inner-most coating that is in direct contact with the food stuff or beverage. It can interact strongly with any surface that it comes into contact with and negatively impact the quality of the product.  See the infographic

Regulations

Food stimulants are simplified food models intended to mimic the migration behavior of real foods with regard to the migration of compounds from food contact materials. The advantage of using stimulants is that broad categories of foods and beverages are able to be tested. Many regulations have employed food stimulants to a set specific migration limit (SML). However, as methodology and instrumentation have advanced, the ability to measure migration into foods has evolved rapidly.

The international symbol that is used to identify materials that have been used in the packaging and come into contact with the food are safe.

There are a number of regulations within the USA through the Food and Drug  Administration, packaging and food contact substances (FCS) code of Federal Legislation (CFR) - 21 CFR 174 - 21 CFR 190), within the European Union and within individual countries such as the German BfR and Canada, Australia and Japan, that govern the permitted levels of migration of chemicals into products. As such levels of chemicals and composition of the compounds must be determined analytically using gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (GC-MS).


Migration

Migration is the process of compounds leaching from the food contact material itself, into the food or beverage. These can be monomers or polymer additives. The EU 10/2011 listing for plastics specifies over 1000 compounds  that are permitted to be used in food contact material,  the overall migration limit (OML)  is used for substances that migrate from the food contact material directly to the food. Products are also subject to specific migration limits (SML), these substances are identified using analytical techniques.

Unfortunately, no packaging material is entirely inert; glass, paper, plastics and ceramics can all leach chemicals into food and drinks at significant concentrations for example, a lid on a glass jars or bottles may contain plastic and result in phthlates leaching into the product.

There are also number of significant factors that can affect the rate and type of compounds that migrate into food and beverages, these include temperature, time, the food type (fats, oils, dry foods), and the size of the packaging itself.

Due to the size of the pores in various packaging materials the analytes of interest are either volatile or semi-volatile (<1000 Da) in nature, and are therefore well-suited to analysis by GC-MS having the advantages of chromatographic resolution, reproducibility, peak capacity and, importantly, extensive spectral libraries to aid in identification.

Higher temperatures increase leaching.
Long storage time increases leaching.
Fatty/acidic foods and liquids have influence on migration.
Smaller packaging leaches more per volume of food.

Non-intentionally added substances

Non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) are compounds such as impurities, reaction intermediates, breakdown products of polymer/additives and contaminants from recycling. They are found in food and beverages through inadvertent migration from food packaging such as plastics. Intentionally added substances (IAS) are known and permitted added substances found within food and beverage products, (EC) Regulation No. 1935/2004, and are rigorously controlled.

IAS: Intentionally added substances NIAS: Non-intentionally added substances
  • Monomers & other starting substances
  • Additives
  • Polymer production aids
  • Aids to polymerisation
  • Colorants
  • Solvents
  • Pre-polymers
  • Impurities
  • Degradation products
  • Oligomers
  • Reaction intermediates
  • Byproducts
  • Contaminants

As a condition of EU Regulation 10/2011 for plastics, NIAS compounds must be measured. However, when investigating NIAS in food and beverages, the analysis can be challenging as there is very little information of the potential chemicals involved. 

Therefore, for NIAS, the approach taken needs to be as non-selective as possible to determine the maximum information both quantitative and qualitative, as possible to also identify known and unapproved substances, those that can be detected and not identified, and those that are simply not detected and enter the food chain.

There are a wide range of powerful analytical techniques available for the detection of targeted and known NIAS.

For the detection of both known and unknown NIAS compounds, more robust techniques must be employed to test stimulants, packaging, or foodstuffs in targeted and non-targeted analysis. 

In such incidences, detectors such as mass spectrometry triple quadrupole (QQQ) combined with full-scan high resolution accurate mass (HRAM) are required, complimented by automatic data processing and ever growing compound databases. These techniques can be used for volatiles analysis through to non-volatile analysis.

Learn more on the issue of chemicals migrating into food from packaging materials, the need to assess the safety of those chemicals that migrate, and the role that high resolution mass spectrometry has to play in the related analysis, in this white paper.

Visit our food analytical testing page on food contact materials to find out more about the instruments we offer for your analyses.


 Safety Assessment of Food Contact Materials

This white paper describes the issue of chemicals migrating into food from packaging materials, the need to assess the safety of those chemicals that migrate, and the role that high resolution mass spectrometry has to play in the related analysis.

 Food Contact Material Infographic

See the diverse materials that come into contact with food during processing, transport, storage, packaging, and handling—in the home and during cooking.

Safety Assessment of Food Contact Materials: The Role of High-resolution Mass Spectrometry in the Comprehensive Analysis of the Total Migrate

Phthalate esters are the main plasticizers used as softening agents in the production of PVC. These compounds are reported to act as endocrine disruptors, and exposure to high levels can cause harmful effects in the human reproductive system. 

Detecting Contaminants from Food Contact Materials Using High Resolution Mass Spectrometry

In this video, Ed George, a Senior Applications Scientist in Environmental and Food Safety at Thermo Fisher Scientific, describes the analysis of food contact materials. High resolution mass spectrometry enables the detection and identification of leached compounds into foodstuffs from packaging materials. 

Analyzing Emerging and Unregulated Risks in Food Safety

In this video, Dr. Michele Suman, Food Chemistry & Safety Research Manager at Barilla G. e R. Fratelli, describes how his facility is testing for emerging risks in food safety. His laboratory is researching the detection of plasticizers that have leached into food samples from their packaging, such as the plastic gasket on the lid of a glass jar.


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Food and Beverage Resource Library

Access a targeted collection of scientific application notes, case studies, videos, webinars and white papers for food microbiology, manufacturing and processing, beverage testing, analytical testing, and authenticity information.

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