Legal delays inhibit work on antimicrobials

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Packaging Food additive Food

The law on food-contact materials is limiting commercial applications
The law on food-contact materials is limiting commercial applications
The time being taken to prepare a positive 'Union' list of compounds permitted in active and intelligent (A&I) food packaging means the EU is lagging behind markets such as the US and Japan in commercialising antioxidant (AO) and antimicrobial (AM) materials.

The European Commission (EC) has been working on positive lists for various categories of food- contact materials. Plastics, for example, already have such a list, designed to restrict or prohibit the use of substances where there are risks to human health, or where there are 'unacceptable' changes to food. The list also aims to ensure consumers are not misled.

The Regulation on A&I materials was only published in 2009. Legislative officer at the EC, Bastiaan Schupp, explained that applications for inclusion in the Union list closed in 2011. "Initially, some 50 applications were made for various substances,"​ he said. "The list of authorisations is likely​ [to be published] towards the end of 2014, and new applications for inclusion can only be made once the current list is published."


Marta Lara, who researches AM and AO packaging at Spain's ITENE institute, emphasised that A&I solutions were successfully being used to extend food shelf-life in other regions. "In Europe, there are only a few commercially significant systems, despite the intensive research and development (R&D) work in this area,"​ she said. "This delay, when compared with other countries, is partly due to the 2009 Regulation and the fact that the positive list is still unpublished."

Regulations on food-contact materials were the "main limitations"​ on commercial applications, she added, pointing out that the 2014 date for publication of the Union list was only provisional.

Meanwhile, Schupp, speaking at the Helsinki Symposium of the International Association of Packaging Research Institutes, warned that publishing the positive list might lead to a more restrictive regime. "Even where a substance is permitted, restrictions may be placed on how it is used,"​ he said.

'Increasing consumer demand'

ITENE's Lara explained the growing importance of AM and AO materials. "There is increasing consumer demand for fresh and minimally processed food without synthetic preservatives,"​ she said. This demand, along with industry interest in extending shelf-life and safeguarding food safety, was said to be driving R&D in natural AM additives such as thymol, carvacrol and other essential oils.

But Schupp quashed any idea that 'natural' additives need not be authorised. Any food-contact A&I substance needed to appear on the positive list, the only exception being permitted food ingredients.

Similar barriers exist in the US where, according to researchers, the US Food & Drug Administration might not even allow a Generally Recognised as Safe material as an active AM additive in packaging.

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