The call comes following the completion of a review into the eco-friendly packaging options by scientific centre of excellence Fera.
Fera's report found that BBFCMs could exhibit properties similar to traditional oil-based plastics, enabling comparable shelf-life performance and consumer protection. It also suggested that current risk assessment processes for establishing contaminant chemical transfer from packaging to food would be appropriate for BBFCMs.
However, the review also found that in many areas limited research had been undertaken into BBFCMs and that there was little information available on these new materials, for example the potential risk of allergens present in these bio-based materials transferring to food. It suggested that additional studies may be required to help contribute towards our understanding of these novel food contact materials, ensuring future food safety and consumer protection.
Known food allergens
"Some of the proteins used to produce packaging materials, edible films and coatings are known food allergens (milk and egg proteins, soya, corn, gluten) and therefore, it is important to understand if their allergenic potential remains in the final product," the report stated.
"In addition to the primary packaging, the allergenic potential of other components such as coatings and fillers need to be considered. Edible films are often coated with seed oils or plant essential oils such as rosemary, oregano, tea tree and others. Some of these are known to be able to elicit allergic reactions by oral or skin contact (Avonto et al., 2016; Damiani et al., 2012; Mortimer & Reeder, 2016).
"At present there is no evidence to indicate that BBFCMs pose an allergenic risk to consumers. However, it might be considered prudent for manufacturers to review the use of potentially allergenic materials as components of BBFCMs."
Biodegradable or compostable
BBFCMs are made from biological, renewable resources. They are a popular alternative to fossil fuel-based materials because they come from sustainable sources and are generally biodegradable or compostable.
An increasing number of BBFCMs are coming onto the market. As a result, the FSA commissioned a review of evidence relating to potential risks and other unintended consequences of replacing oil-based plastic food packaging and other food contact materials with BBFCMs.
"With an increasing number of different bio-based food contact materials coming onto the market, this review has shown that more work needs to be carried out to better identify the benefits and potential risks associated with these new materials," said professor Rick Mumford, FSA director of science, evidence and research.
"We will continue to work with businesses as they look to more sustainable packaging alternatives to ensure that the materials they use are safe and fit for purpose."