Bio-based food contact materials: New studies raise concerns over chemical safety and labeling claims

In the pursuit of promoting sustainability, the production of food contact materials (FCMs) from plant biomass has gained popularity. However, recent studies have shed light on the chemical safety concerns associated with bio-based FCMs, revealing potential hazards and questioning the accuracy of eco-friendly labeling claims.    

One study conducted by researchers from Nanjing University in China focused on FCMs containing plant fibers. The study, published in the journal Food Packaging and Shelf Life, found that the chemical composition of these FCMs varied widely depending on factors such as the region of the feedstock, season, and production processes. Hazardous substances were identified to originate from raw materials, production processes, and even during use. Factors such as polluted soils, pesticide use, and the incorporation of polymers and additives were found to increase the presence of potentially harmful substances in the final plant-based FCMs.    

While targeted analytical methods exist for certain problematic substances like pesticides and plasticizers, the study emphasized the need for comprehensive testing approaches for those hazardous substances that do not have standardized testing regimes. The authors recommended the use of multi-dimensional separation techniques and high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) to gain a broader understanding of the chemical components present in bio-based FCMs.    

The authors also highlighted the challenge of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), which often lack standardized testing regimes and toxicity data, hindering accurate risk assessment. To overcome these challenges, they suggested integrating complementary methods such as in vitro bioassays.    

Another study, published in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, and conducted by researchers from The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (VWA), examined 28 bio-based food contact articles (FCAs) from the Dutch market. The study revealed concerns regarding the labeling claims of "eco-friendly" or "natural" FCMs. Many of these labeled products were found to have plastic coatings that rendered them non-biodegradable. Additionally, pesticide residues, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), phthalates, and potentially endocrine-disrupting antioxidants were detected in various samples. The study raised doubts about the accuracy of these labeling claims, suggesting that they might be considered misleading or "greenwashing."    

In addition to man-made hazardous chemicals, naturally occurring harmful substances, such as allergens, can also pose risks in bio-based FCMs. As we recently reported, a study conducted by researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany confirmed that gluten can be present in FCMs derived from wheat, and it can migrate from these FCMs to the food, especially after prolonged contact.    

As the demand for sustainable alternatives continues to grow, it becomes crucial to ensure that bio-based FCMs undergo rigorous testing and adhere to accurate labeling practices. Regulators and industry stakeholders must work together to establish comprehensive testing methods, address the challenges posed by NIAS, and provide transparent and accurate labeling information to protect consumer health and well-being.      



Science Direct