Gluten migration from biodegradable FCM: risks for celiac and allergy patients

The European Union’s ban on single-use plastics, such as plates, cutlery, straws, drink stirrers, in July 2021 has spurred the development of biobased and biodegradable food contact materials (FCM) made from renewable resources like wheat or rye. While promising for sustainability, these materials pose a hidden danger: gluten and allergen migration.  

A study published in the journal of European Food Research and Technology on April 2024 highlights that these biodegradable polymers, despite their abundance, film-forming properties and low cost, can be brittle and permeable to water vapor than conventional plastics. EU regulations require FCM to be adhered to good manufacturing practices to ensure that their constituents do not transfer to food in amounts that could harm human health, alter the food's composition in an unacceptable manner, or degrade its sensory qualities under normal or foreseeable use. However, current regulations don't cover allergen labelling in FCM.  

67% of tested biobased materials contain potentially harmful compounds. Furthermore, gluten can migrate from these materials into food, exceeding safe limits for celiac patients, 20 mg/kg of gluten. Studies show gluten migration from wheat bran plates into lasagna (exceeding 80 mg/kg) and from cups into various foods.  

The risk varies depending on the material. Cutlery made mostly from polylactic acid showed minimal migration, whereas straws made from wheat flour exhibited significant transfer, especially into acidic solutions. Rye straw, however, showed no migration.  

To safeguard individuals with celiac disease and wheat allergies, it is essential to address the regulatory gap concerning allergen labeling in FCM. Present regulations, such as EU No 1169/2011 for food and EC No 1935/2004 for FCM, do not sufficiently mandate allergen labeling for FCM. There is a need for increased awareness and legislative amendments to ensure the safety of these materials.