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Plastics & Paper 2014 Exceeds All Expectations

Plastics and Paper in Contact with Foodstuffs was another very successful event for organisers Smithers Pira and all involved.

Over 200 delegates joined the 4 day event in Munich, Germany and participated in 2 expert pre-conference workshops, to get to grips with the FACET tool and legislation and regulations outside of Europe, followed by 3 days of extensive networking breaks, expert presentations and thoughtful discussions.

Day 1 of the Plastics agenda encompassed a general European update from Smithers Pira and EFSA, plus insights from EuPIA on the current situation for packaging inks, which focussed on the move of the German authorities towards developing new legislation for inks on food packs and also an update on the guidelines for multi-layer materials from Flexible Packaging Europe. The USA also was discussed in some detail, including the basic resin doctrine in the 21st century, which sparked some debate on its current application and validity.

Two high energy presentations closed Day 1, taking a lot at national regulations outside of Europe, including a whistle stop tour through the Middle East (plus Turkey) by Kevin Kenny of Decernis. Delegates were then entertained at the local Augustiner Keller and enjoyed platters of Bavarian meats and cheese, accompanied by beer and the company of their fellow food contact professionals.

NIAS was also a hot topic of the event.  Cost effective tools in the form of the Threshold of Toxicological Concern and FACET now exist for the risk assessment of NIAS once they have been identified and quantified.  However, the identification and quantification of NIAS remains a challenge for modern analytical chemistry and can only be achieved at a fairly high cost, typically perhaps €10,000 to €15,000 per packaging product.  Although large companies will be able to bear the financial burden it seems disproportionate to expect companies below a certain size to do so.  Additionally, does it really make sense to keep repeating the evaluation at each point in the supply chain where a new additive is incorporated into a plastic which has already been evaluated without it?  A better way needs to be found to tackle the analytical chemistry step if NIAS is to be tackled in a reasonable manner.

Dr Beate Brauer then provided various case studies from the enforcement perspective, which focussed on the work in the surveillance of food packaging materials and provided some interesting comments on the often poor quality of food contact declarations.

A popular session on Day 2 of the Plastics agenda involved Elly Spies of FrieslandCampina and Paul Earnshaw from Tesco.  This session provided a break from the technical presentations and took a step back to remind us that the consumer is the most important person in the supply chain. Paul, in particular, emphasised that Tesco do want to hear from prospective suppliers, but hearing from them in terms of what benefit their products have for a consumer is key.

In the closing session of the Plastics agenda, we heard from three speakers on novel food contact materials.  Ann Gergely of Steptoe and Johnson focused on definitions of nanoparticles before Roland Franz of Fraunhofer IVV presented his most recent studies on the migration of nanoparticles which showed that nanoparticles larger than 4nm will not migrate.  Finally, we closed with a presentation on biocidal products and packaging.

Overall the plastics part of the conference showed the commitment of the whole supply chain to proving the safety and compliance of plastic food contact articles and materials in all markets and usefully updated everyone on the status of the tools available to help achieve this.

Then the proceedings moved onto Paper and Board in contact with food, and though it is a widely held belief that the absence of harmonised legislation means there is no legislation for Paper and Board, the first two presentations proved that is not the case. For companies ensuring compliance with the legislation is not only a regulatory- but also a business requirement.

The approach taken by companies DS Smith and MM Karton was covered in detail and, although different, demonstrated the amount of thought and effort that goes into this important topic. The situation is complex because of the range of paper based products produced in Europe, the mix of regulations at national and regional level plus initiatives from the Paper Industry itself and companies have to be clear on how to manage their resources to ensure compliance in as many countries as possible. In practice this means that companies not only have to know their products but also understand the specific requirements that apply to each and every one of them in all the countries where they are marketed.

Developments in the tools available continue to gather momentum and both the FACET database and analytical techniques to determine the level of migration of mineral oils to food from paper, presented in the closing session, will be key going forward. Changes to the regulations were few in 2014 but we could well see a number of significant changes next year. The Council of Europe are going to rework the resolution on Paper and Board and the format will be completely different  to that seen before and the decision by the Paper Industry to explore the possibility of having harmonised legislation for Paper and Board with the European Commission is significant. 

Barry Podd, Chairman of the Paper conference comments;  Whatever happens in the future the Paper Industry has once again demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the compliance of its products, developing the tools to ensure the safety of the products and showing how this can be managed in a pragmatic and effective way.