Food contact risk software sparks debate

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

McNamara hopes risk assessment software will be used by businesses
McNamara hopes risk assessment software will be used by businesses

Related tags: European union, Eu

How soon EU regulators and the supply chain start to take realistic exposure levels into account in assessing risk in food-contact packaging could depend on the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) reception to new software.

The EU’s Flavours, Additives and Food Contact Material Exposure Task (FACET) research project was a four-year collaboration that ended two years ago. The main outcome was to develop a publicly available software programme, which built data from the various Member States into its exposure model. Dublin technology company Creme Global published the software at the end of last year.

Cronan McNamara, Creme boss, said: “I think companies will use the FACET model in their submissions​ [to the EU authorities]. It’s well validated. There are other tools available, but FACET is particularly designed for packaging, and it’s better than anything else out there.”

‘Ongoing conversations’

The European Commission’s (EC’s) Joint Research Centre (JRC) is working to promote the software and find additional sources of funding. It is also in “ongoing conversations”​ with the EFSA, McNamara explained.

“But the industry needs this tool and I think that acceptance, rather than any formal endorsement from the EFSA, is the key thing.”

At materials testing specialist Smithers Pira​, manager for food contact compliance Dr Alistair Irvine saw the availability of the software as positive. “But I don’t think it has any substantive use for individual customers at the moment. It’s more of a research tool. If it were given EFSA approval and then formally accepted by the EC, it could be used as part of the package of information applied to assessing individual chemicals for food-contact approval.”

The current EU Regulation on plastics in contact with food, for example, only dates back to 2011. But it is based on historical assumptions about exposure and is widely agreed to be cautious.

“The EU Regulation is precautionary, for understandable reasons,” ​chair of the British Plastics Federation (BPF) Product Safety Committee Chris Howick explained. “The model assumes that all the food we eat is packaged in plastics.”

Risk

Exposure data allows those assessing risk to refine this model to focus on what polymers are used in contact with which foods and consumed in what quantities.

“It makes the model more representative of reality, and calculations more meaningful,”​ said Howick. “It gives regulators the opportunity to target those types of packaging where migration levels might be exceeded.”

Irvine, at Smithers Pira, said that the EU’s approved list of starting substances for plastics includes around 900 items, and took some 30 years to finalise. The same process applied to the 2,000 starting substances for inks and could take 70 years, he concluded.

The BPF’s Howick was positive: “Could we see migration limits expressed in terms of exposure? Yes, I believe it’s not too far off.”

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