The use of food contact materials and articles

PLASTIC

What kind of plastic products (e.g. disposable gloves or packaging films) must not be used when handling food?

Plastic products not complying with the requirements of Regulation (EU) 1935/2004 on materials intended to come into contact with food and the requirements of Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 must not be used . Only the substances listed in Annex 1 of the Plastics Regulation and the quantitative restrictions or migration limits set for them may be used as raw materials for the manufacture of food contact plastics.

For example, disposable PVC plastic products (“vinyl plastics”) containing certain phthalates (benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisonyl phthalate (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP)) must not be used in the handling of fatty foods (more than 0.5% fat). Every vinyl gloves are therefore not suitable as universal gloves when working with food. Also, PVC plastic film in which the phthalates mentioned above have been used must not be used to wrap fatty foods. Under the Plastics Regulation such products must include instructions stating “Not suitable for contact with fatty foods” or other similar information.

Much is spoken about the dangers of plastic. Can I safely transport food in plastic containers? Can I carry food, in, for example, a sealable plastic ice cream container, round, plastic liter jam jar or a freezer box?

Food contact materials should be used in accordance with their instructions for use. Instructions for use can be found on the package labelling of food contact materials for consumer use.

Plastic containers intended for re-use and which have no restrictions on contact with fatty foods are highy suitable for storing sandwiches.

On the other hand, old plastic ice cream or jam containers are not the best things to store sandwiches in because they have not usually been made for re-use and may not necessarily have been tested accordingly. This is why we cannot be certain that their components do not migrate into food with re-use. Freezer containers intended for freezing food are also well suited for packing sandwiches, although some of these, too, have been made for single use only. Regarding various plastic films, those suitable for packing sandwiches are labelled to the effect that they are suitable for contact with fatty food. Cling films used solely for the packaging of vegetables must not be used for the packaging of fatty foods.

Can cooking oil be stored in a plastic bottle or container?

There are very many kinds of plastics and some can also be used for contact with fatty food. It is important to choose a bottle made of plastic that is known to withstand oil for packaging oil.

The safety and regulatory compliance of plastic food contact materials is regulated by Framework Regulation (EU) 1935/2004 and by the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. Of these, the latter applies only to plastic food contact materials.

Under the Plastics Regulation, before they are placed on the market, plastic food contact materials must always be tested in the laboratory under the conditions in which they will be used. Testing uses so-called test substances that imitate the characteristics of food. This means that materials and articles coming into contact with fatty food are tested with a test substance imitating fatty food. Therefore, only such materials that pass these tests with flying colours can be chosen for contact with oil. In other words, the total migration of substances should not exceed 10 mg/dm 2  (per square decimetre of the contact material) and if the plastic contains components subject to restrictions in the list of authorised ingredients in the regulation concerned, the migration of these components into the food must not exceed the restrictions set out in the Plastics Regulation.

An oil packer must choose a plastic bottle that fulfils the requirements of the Plastics Regulation above and for which the aforementioned tests have been performed and migration has been found to be below the limits. It is not advisable to pack or to transfer oil into just any plastic container at home.

Encapsulated fish oil melts a plastic cup. Can it be eaten or is it dangerous?

Consumers have conducted tests by pouring the contents of fish oil capsules into a plastic cup made of polystyrene (PS) and been astounded to find out that the cup melts because of the oil. This phenomenon has made them wonder whether the oil is dangerous to the human digestive system.

Plastic materials and oils are “close relatives” because plastics are manufactured from oils with various polymerisation methods. One of the basic rules of chemistry is that “similar substances dissolve each other.” That is what this phenomenon is basically about too. Even though oil dissolves a plastic cup, it does not mean that it causes similar effects to the digestive system!

Plastics specialists state that polar aliphatic hydrocarbons (which can be found e.g. in fish oils) can dissolve polystyrene if they have sufficient polarity, in other words, ketone and carboxylic groups (=esterified oil). In J. Seppälä’s book “Polymeeriteknologian perusteet” (The Basics of Polymer Technology), this matter is stated clearly: “Polystyrene can sustain water, saline solutions, acids, bases, aliphatic hydrocarbons and lower alcohols, but it dissolves into esters, aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons.”

So the substances’ basic chemical characteristics cause a certain type of (esterified) fish oil to dissolve a PS plastic cup. Esterified fish oil is sold as conventional capsules. Even though the phenomenon looks astonishing, there is nothing “mysterious” about it!

Disposable tableware as well as other tableware and packaging is always designed for a specific use and specific conditions. For example, a thin disposable PS cup is usually designed for cold or lukewarm water-based drinks – not for storing oil. For that purpose, another suitable material is chosen – one that can sustain oil.

What should be considered when shopping for plastic containers for storing food?

When buying the articles concerned it is always advisable to carefully read the labelling.  Plastic containers intended for contact with food must have labelling showing their intended use. For example, a glass-and-fork symbol, or other labelling meaning the same or text indicating that they are intended for contact with food. If such plastic materials additionally have restrictions on their conditions of use (e.g. temperature or contact time restrictions) or in the food itself, they must also be indicated separately on the labelling.

Almost all plastic containers commonly intended for contact with food can be used to store dry food. On the other hand, not all plastic articles intended for the packaging of food are suitable for the storage of fatty, highly acidic or hot foods, and it is advisable to pay particular attention to containers for these types of food. Examinations have shown that the chemical components of materials and articles are most easily transferred to fatty, hot and acidic foods. For these foods, it is therefore advisable to choose plastic containers with labelling stating that they are suitable for fatty and hot foods.

Can bin bags be used for food packaging?

No. Bin bags are often made of recyclable plastic that is unsuitable for contact with food and so do not comply with the requirements for food contact materials.

Do harmful components in the plastic parts of coffee-makers and kettles leach into the final product, especially in the case of a boiling hot beverage? How are these devices monitored for food safety?

Coffeemakers and kettles are so-called food contact materials, the chemical safety of which is regulated by Framework Regulation (EU) 1935/2004 and their plastic parts by Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011.

Under the Plastics Regulation, such plastic food contact materials must only be made from the list of authorised ingredients in Annex I of the Regulation and restrictions have been laid down for any migration of these ingredients into food.

Under the Regulation, the manufacturer of a plastic device acting as a contact material must, before placing it on the market, have the finished product examined in a laboratory to establish migration into food. The tests to be carried out in the examinations must be performed  in the conditions in which the device has been designed to come into contact with food, i.e. under boiling water conditions, and the total migration of the substances and the migration of individual substances for which restrictions have been given in relation to migration must always be examined. Examination must also carried out to ensure that no odour or taste migrates from the food contact material into the food. Additionally, the manufacturer must prepare a so-called declaration of compliance showing the aforementioned information

Equipment manufacturers and importers are monitored by municipal food control authorities. The food control authority checks to ensure the availability of declarations of compliance and test results for equipment manufactured and imported in Finland.

In addition, Customs controls imported food contact materials at the border on a random basis.

DISPOSABLE GLOVES

Why are all vinyl gloves not necessarily suitable for contact with all foods? What does the "not suitable for contact with fatty foods" warning in disposable gloves mean in practice? Are phthalate-free disposable gloves suitable for contact with all food? What is the labelling on disposable glove packaging and who is responsible for ensuring that the labelling is in order?

Vinyl disposable gloves on the market are covered by Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. The Annex of the Plastics Regulation contains a positive list of those substances from which plastic coming into contact with food may be made. Some of the substances on the list have restrictions on the use and/or restrictions on their migration into food. Certain phthalates (plasticisers) which are often used in the manufacture of vinyl plastics (and hence also in the manufacture of vinyl plastic gloves) are subject to restriction and must not be used in the manufacture of products that are intended to come into contact with fatty foods.

It has been found that phthalates are easily transferred to fatty foods. Because this is a matter of a substance that interferes with human hormonal activity, it has been deemed necessary to restrict their use. This is why the warning "not suitable for contact with fatty foods" is required in the labelling of these products”.

A food with a fat content of less than 0.5% is considered to be fat free (Nutrition Claims Regulation (EU) 1924/2006). All foods that have more fat than this are considered to be fatty foods. This means that it is not allowed to touch almost all ready-made foods, charcuterie, fats, pastries, cheeses, etc. with disposable gloves that have warning on them. Where general kitchen gloves suitable for handling are required, gloves without the warning should be chosen.

There are also disposable vinyl gloves labelled "phthalate-free"on the market. However, being phthalate-free on its own does not automatically make the gloves suitable for contact with fatty food and suitability must be verified with the glove importer or manufacturer and, if necessary, a request made for a document showing regulatory compliance. It is always possible that the plastic contains other constituents that readily migrate into fatty food. In general, the migration of substances from contact material into food is highest for fatty and highly acidic food. Migration also increases as the food temperature rises.

If there is a glass-and-fork symbol on the glove packaging and no ban on handling fatty foods, it is still advisable to check with the salesperson. Food business operators have been instructed to check, for example, with wholesale, because labelling has often been found to be missing from glove packaging. Even if the gloves are not suitable for contact with fatty foods, the gloves should still be labelled for that reason.

Disposable gloves are usually imported goods and the importer is responsible for ensuring that the declaration of compliance contains adequate information and, where necessary, for supplementing the labelling and documentation if the labelling is missing or unclear. The packaging may often contain more information in English, for example, and it is then the responsibility of the importer to ensure that all mandatory information is stated in the labelling in Finnish. The warning label "not suitable for contact with fatty foods" or other similar warning label is one of the mandatory labels.

Which is more useful in cooking, a wooden or a plastic cutting board?

 It is advisable to use an easy-to-clean plastic cutting board in cooking and to have a separate cutting board for each food category. Plastic boards can be washed conveniently in the dishwasher, where they are cleaned better, thanks to the high temperature. Wooden cutting boards are most suitable for dry foods such as bread and other bakery goods. Usually the wood material is so porous that it can absorb dirt, water and detergents and remain damp for a long time. In food industry, plastic boards are used exclusively when processing easily perishable foods.

MICROWAVE HEATING

How should food be heated in the microwave oven? In a plate or in a container?

To cook a food in a microwave oven, you should choose a dish that withstand micro-heating. Glassware and ceramic dishes that do not have a metal ornaments are usually suitable for microwave oven. Plastic dishes are suitable only if there is labelling with an indication of its suitability for the microwave. If there is no that kind of label, the plastic container should not be used for micro heating.

CERAMICS

We have brought back some ceramic dishes for our own use from abroad. Dare we use them or will excess heavy metals from them migrate into the food?

Ceramic containers brought back as souvenirs from abroad may have high concentrations of heavy metals and are therefore not recommended for continuous contact with food. However, the accumulation of heavy metals in the body and the damage this causes requires repeated long-term (often up to several years continuous) exposure to these substances and so such short exposure time is not a health hazard.

How can I find out whether lead leaches from tea cups brought back from Russia? The cups are dark blue with a golden rim. I wash them in the dishwasher.

It is not recommended to use such old cups brought back from abroad on a daily basis. When used only on special occasions, there is no health hazard from any metals migrating from the cups. The harmful effects of lead and other metals generally appear only after long-term exposure.

Within the EU, manufacturers must examine the migration of both lead and cadmium from ceramic food contact materials and so they should have that information. However, if these are old cups brought back from Russia, there is probably no information available at all.

Food and environmental laboratories examine materials and articles coming into contact with food . If you wish, you can have examined the amount of lead migrating from the cups. The municipal food control authority can advise where the cups should be sent for examination.

Various decorative painting and especially gold ornamentation easily come off if the cups are washed in a dishwasher due to the hot water and corrosive detergent. This is why it is advisable to avoid repeated washing in the dishwasher.

CRYSTAL

Can I use crystal glasses daily? Is there any legislation on the amount of lead oxide in the crystal? What harm does lead do to humans?

It is not recommended to use crystalware continuously because of its high lead content. In particular, older crystalware and crystal bought as souvenirs can contain a lot of lead that can migrate into the food stored in the container.

Although modern crystal contains less lead, it is always present in crystal glass and it is namely the lead that gives crystal glass its particular workability and appearance. The use of crystalware from time to time, such as on special occasions, is considered safe. Individual exposure to the lead in a crystal glass generally does not harm human health, but the harmful effects are visible only in the long term after repeated exposure.

There is currently no material-specific legislation regulating the quantity of components contained in crystal glass or glass at all. The safety of these is assessed according to Regulation (EU) 1935/2004. This Regulation provides that ingredients from food contact materials may not, under foreseeable conditions, be transferred to food in such quantities that would render the food hazardous to human health, inappropriately alter the composition of the food or its organoleptic characteristics in an undesirable way. In addition, there is one piece of national legislation in Finland (Ministry of Trade and Industry Decree 268/1992) that regulates the quantity of heavy metals (lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel) migrating from all food contact materials. Crystal glass must also meet the requirements of this Decree. You can find more information about the harmful effects of lead, for example, here::

https://www.ruokavirasto.fi/yritykset/elintarvikeala/valmistus/yhteiset-koostumusvaatimukset/kontaminantit/elintarvikkeiden-sisaltamat-metallit/lyijy/

FOOD CANS AND METALS

Is there a coating on the inside of all cans or can there still be cans with no coating? Are stores allowed to sell dented food cans and should you buy them?

There are different kinds of food cans. Some have a coating on the inside of the can and others do not. Whether there is a coating depends on the characteristics of the food to be packed in it. Acidic fruit and vegetable preserves are usually packed in a coated can because acidic food corrodes the metal.

When the can is dented, there is a risk of the inside coating being damaged and metals from the tin sheet migrating into the food stored in the can. Damage to coating is not really visible to the eye. The longer the dent has existed, the more metals migrate into the food. This is why it is not advisable to buy dented cans because there is no way of knowing when the dent occurred. . If you yourself cause the dent, the contents of the can may still be used if they are transferred to another container.

Stores should remove dented cans from sale and have also been instructed to do so by food control authorities.

Can metal cans or disposable carton cups be used as moulds in food preparation?

It is not advisable to use metal cans or carton cups for anything other than normal use. These products have not been made for such use and so there is no certainty as to whether ingredients from the material will become detached and migrate into the food. This means that contaminants which may be harmful to health might migrate to food from the print, coatings or from the material itself.

Can mulled wine (glögi) be heated in a kettle or an aluminium saucepan?

Kettles should only be used to boil water. In some kettles, the copper heating element is visible and acidic mulled wine could corrode the metal and cause pieces of metal to detach. Copper is an important trace element for humans in small quantities but large quantities can even cause acute poisoning. Nor should aluminium kettles be used to heat mulled wine since acidic mulled wine dissolves aluminium from the kettle.

WOOD, PAPER AND BOARD

Can a wooden board be used as a dish for meat in a smoking oven?

Nordic wood is in principle considered safe. If the wooden board is not 100% wood but compiled from adhesives with a potential coating, it is possible and even likely that substances will migrate from the board into the meat.

You should first find out if the board is made of a contact material at all and if the wooden board is intended to be used in the aforementioned way and in contact with food. You should also ensure that the wooden board is used according to the instructions on their operating conditions.

Do any harmful substances dissolve into microwave popcorn from the packaging?

Microwave popcorn packaging includes perfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS) to prevent the fat from absorbing into the paper and to protect the paper bag from heat during cooking. 

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the intake of perfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFOS and PFOA) in food is so insignificant that their daily maximum intake is not exceeded. So if you eat microwave popcorn only occasionally, they pose a very minor health risk.

If you want to reduce your chemical intake, it is advisable to cook popcorn traditionally by heating it in a steel kettle.

 

Page last updated 1/7/2021