Label printers’ role in food regulation and consumer safety. Food Safety - Are your food labels legal?
Survival in the food industry comes down to more than price competitiveness: failure to comply with legislation positions the label printer not only as an ‘also ran’ but as a complete non-starter in the end-user’s qualification process. Here (at UPM Raflatac) we strive to promote & educate converters and brand owners alike regarding recent changes in European legislation with regards food packaging materials, of which labels are an integral part.
FINAT, in a collaborative effort with its member UPM Raflatac EMEA(*), reports on the new EU 10/2011 regulation. This regulation on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food came into legal force on 1 January 2013. It replaces Commission Directive 2002/72/EC and national legislation based on that directive. Its purpose is to support brand owners’ and retailers’ duty of care to their customers, and represents an important additional measure in ongoing endeavours to ensure the quality and safety of food. Label printers who supply to the EU food industry have a key role to play.
Direct and indirect food contact
The new regulation applies the same principles as EC No 1935/2004 for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. Such materials are required to be sufficiently inert to not transfer their constituents to food in quantities large enough to endanger human health, and to prevent unwanted changes to the composition of the food and how it looks, tastes or smells. While EC No 1935/2004 applies to food packaging in general, the new EU 10/2011 specifically concerns all plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuff, with labels considered an integral part of such packaging. EU10/2011 consolidates 2002/72/EC and seven amendments (these were previous regulations for plastics).The idea of the regulation is to harmonise the different legislation that has existed previously within individual member states. This should make it easier for different countries to deal with each other in terms of the shipping of goods.
Both direct food contact labels furnished with a plastic layer, as well as plastic labels applied to food packaging, now require Declarations of Conformity (DoCs) stating which controlled but authorised substances are present in their make-up.
Only when the packaging material or any layer provides a functional barrier that prevents migration of substances from behind that barrier into food, are labels and other packaging components exempt from EU 10/2011. Material compositions that are purely combinations of paper and board continue to be covered by national legislation or recommendations such as those of the German BfR.
Restricted and unrestricted substances
All authorised substances – both restricted and unrestricted -- which may be used in packaging containing plastic in its layers are stipulated on the ‘Union List’ within EU 10/2011. Only restricted substances need to be declared; and as DoCs move downstream within the supply/manufacturing chain, such substances must be clearly identified and documented so that compliance can be optimally tested.
Final responsibility for conformance lies with the end user
It is the end user -- packager or brand owner – who has final responsibility for checking that the packaging as a whole conforms to EU 10/2011 (in addition to any extant national legislation for papers, as well as to EC 1935/2004, the Framework regulation for all packaging materials), taking into account the nature of the packaged food, its defined shelf life, and ambient conditions. Label printers are therefore required to provide DoCs for their labels to enable tests for restricted substance levels and migration behaviour in specific environmental conditions to be carried out.
Label printers: responsibilities and risks
Food label printers supplying into the EU therefore need to be provided with DoCs both from their labelstock and ink suppliers to be able to compile their own DoCs, which must, of course, also incorporate conformance information about any curing processes used during label production.
It should be noted that the enactment of these regulations means that printers unable to supply DoCs cannot now be accepted as part of the end user’s supply chain, and may also leave themselves open to the financial repercussions of a product recall. It is therefore essential for label printers to be proactive in obtaining and supplying the necessary documentation if they are to retain their place as responsible and viable links in the broader professional packaging chain.
The benefits of a secure supply chain
Finally, to summarise, all the above points underline the value of DoCs as a form of insurance for a label printer’s business, as a means of retaining existing customer contracts, and as an entry ticket to end users qualification processes for new business – with the ultimate aim of protecting the consumer. Producing DoCs to a satisfactory standard creates a level playing field for all operations – however large or small.
PLASTICS IN FOOD PACKAGING – A CHECKLIST FOR LABEL PRINTERS
The scope of the EU 10/2011 regulation on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food:
(a) Materials and articles and parts thereof consisting exclusively of plastics;
(b) Plastic multi-layer materials and articles held together by adhesives or by other means;
(c) Materials and articles referred to in points a) or b) which are printed and/or covered by a coating;
(d) Plastic layers or plastic coatings, forming gaskets in caps and closures that, together with those caps and closures, compose a set of two or more layers of different types of materials;
(e) Plastic layers in multi-material multi-layer materials and articles.
Note that (e) may also relate to labels – ‘multi-material multi-layer’ is a material that contains different materials in several layers, for example paper with film.
All filmic labels (which are considered part of the packaging), require Declarations of Conformity (DoCs). Among other data, DoCs state which authorised but restricted substances are present, and the legislation with which materials are compliant.
FINAT, founded in Paris in 1958 with headquarters in The Hague (The Netherlands), is the worldwide association for manufacturers of self-adhesive labels and related products and services. With 600 members in over 50 countries around the world, FINAT has much to offer to label converters and all suppliers to the labeling industry in terms of information exchange and the opportunity to network internationally. www.finat.com