Food packaging made safer

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Australia is still adopting regulations from Europe when it comes to its manufacturers’ food packaging compliance. Speaking to Food & Beverage Industry News, James Montgomery, ink product manager for Jet Technologies, explains its significance.

Consumer appetite for a wide choice of foods is driving farmers, packagers and distributors to deliver higher quantities at a faster pace.

In Australia alone, the value of packaging produced is more than $10 billion and directly employs around 30,000 people.

According to the Packaging Council of Australia, up to 70 per cent of the industry serves the food and beverage sector.

Packaging is proven to extend the shelf life of fresh food and drink products, according to industry studies such as those carried out by Choice – meaning produce can be transported further and, if managed well, can also reduce food waste and improve sustainability.

However, this greater volume of packaged goods requires strict regulations to ensure that packaging is safe for the consumer and, more specifically, that the materials used on branding to attract and inform the customer doesn’t contaminate the consumable product. Low-migration inks require rigid testing and industry compliance to prevent printed advertising and product details seeping into the population’s daily diet.

“As food packaging compliance (FPC) regulations become more complex, it is incumbent on industry professionals to understand what they mean for their business operations,” said James Montgomery, Jet Technologies ink product manager (pictured right).

A leader in FPC compliance, Jet Technologies is an Australian importer and distributer of print supplies for makers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and specialises in industry-tested inks and coatings.

“We are trying to lean more on the brand and marketing departments of FMCG organisations, to improve their knowledge of FPC,” said Montgomery.

There are three different ways materials used for food packaging can contaminate the product. Other than chemical migration from the packaging itself, contamination can also be caused on the printing reel, whereby ink is transferred to underside of the print face – known as an “invisible set-off” – and therefore risks food product being spoiled.

Further down the production line, the inclusion of gases into sealed product can also carry dangerous chemicals during the packaging process.

In 2005, Nestlé was at the centre of a major recall of its baby milk across four European countries, after it was discovered that traces of the chemical Isopropil Thioxantone (ITX) – used in UV curing inks for printing – had been found in some cartons of the company’s Nidina and Latte Mio brands.

When an incident of this size happens, it causes the industry to re-evaluate the raw materials they are using as well as consumer safety, Montgomery explains.

The Nutella recall received global attention and is considered a turning point for the ink industry, according to Montgomery, who says that FPC inks in food packaging have become more popular and has been helped by a “significant decrease” in cost to manufacturers.

Switzerland was the first nation to enforce changes to the regulations, with a Swiss ordinance bringing into effect its own raw materials “black list”, which also sets out requirements for the safe manufacture and supply of packaged foods.

“That had a massive impact because, overnight, questionnaires were sent out to suppliers for their actual print converting and also the question of their raw materials lists and the suppliers they were using, to make sure that they were conforming to all the current legislation,” Montgomery said.

The supermarkets also started demanding that packagers conform to new legislation.

However, FPC is not exclusive to the food and beverage industry. Other sectors – such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals, plus health and beauty – all need to work to the same standards.

“It is such a diverse market for the end user – everything from FMCGs to cosmetics,” Montgomery said.

“We have a few label manufacturing customers who have adopted FPC completely,” he continued. “There is a large commitment from them and that is what we are trying to achieve, to broaden that understanding of FPC between the brands and the label manufacturers.”

According to Montgomery, Australia and New Zealand are in need of “harmonised legislation” for manufacture of coatings and inks which would benefit the local industry and provide clarity.

“Currently, our food packaging regulations are adopted or inspired from Europe,” he said. “One form of legislation is required in Australia and New Zealand to provide certainty to us all.”

“Manufacturers need to be aware of their changing their environment and the raw materials they use on their packaging. It us up to all of us to make the industry safer for the consumer.”