Global Trade Media held its second executive roundtable on food-safety packaging at the Crown Plaza hotel in London late last year. With 23 delegates from leading food companies and plenty of retailers in attendance, it was a chance to assess where the industry is headed and how it can improve food safety for consumers.
The moderator for the evening was Jürgen Towara, senior food-contact expert and head of food contact for Europe at Intertek. His opening statement addressed the confusion about multiple regulations, as regional and national requirements are not in complete harmony with one another. He cited how France has banned BPA, how Germany has differences in its NIAS and mineral-oil carbons in packaging, and how the changing regulatory landscape makes it difficult to be compliant in all countries without frequent amendments to manufacturing practices.
After Towara’s opening remarks, Sappi’s head of business development, René Köhler, and marketing manager Kerstin Dietze addressed the audience. They spoke about innovation in fibre-based packaging materials and how functional-barrier substrates can protect food products.
Dietze said Sappi is a leading producer of all types of papers, including paper used for flexible packaging, coated and uncoated paper, liner, release liners, container board, pressure-sensitive papers, technical papers, and corrugated and folding boxes.
Algro Guard M
Sappi’s first product discussed, which is already available on the market, was Algro Guard M: a one-sided coated paper with mineral-oil barrier and heat-sealing function. Some of its notable features include a sustainable barrier against mineral oil that lasts for 15 months, excellent heat-sealing properties, a strong aroma and a grease barrier. It is also recyclable and repulpable. Especially designed for dry and fatty foods such as rice, pasta, cereal and chocolate, it is environmentally friendly, easy to convert and cost-efficient.
The next product to be discussed was Guard Plus, which is yet to hit the market. This will have a high-barrier-dispersion option, which will be free of chlorine. The gravure coating will have a safe barrier and be 100% recyclable. There are other products that will be available from 2017, but they are at various stages of development, and Sappi suggested interested parties approach it directly.
This led to the first series of questions. Kevin Vyse of Marks & Spencer wanted to know the expected cost of Guard Plus. Köhler said it would be a cheaper solution than anything currently offered.
Iain Mortimer of Apetito asked about the recycling stream for these products, specifically whether it will fit seamlessly into the UK stream or if will go to a landfill. Köhler said: "When we produce papers, we can take over the recovery to support and ensure recyclability."
The next to address the room were Essentra’s regulatory manager, Darren Crowder; EMEA category director for food and drink David Mayers; and category manager for food, drink and household Rupert Taylor.
Crowder said: "Essentra produces small but essential components for the packaging industry. In the food-contact-compliance arena, we work with companies such as Pira to review processes and markets, and ensure that we are compliant with all regulation."
Security and contamination
Essentra’s presentation also dealt with security and contamination, noting that the World Customs Organization and the International Chamber of Commerce estimate 5-9% of global trade is counterfeit, which is valued at up to £336 billion.
Food and beverage is the most affected market sector, with 54% of its goods being counterfeit. Falsely labelled products, or those made without the correct ingredients or without following the correct processes, are a source of distress to brand-owners. They face the risk of a tarnished reputation, the poor health of consumers or the cost to take action against those that produced the fraudulent products. Food-safety packaging must address these issues, as it is senseless to use the right material or barriers to prevent migration or chemical transfers into packaging if the product is corrupted.
The speakers from Essentra said that the company has covert and overt solutions available to help companies fight counterfeiting.
Peter Zwankhuizen, head of marketing and sales at Actega, said that taggants in the inks are one of the best options to combat counterfeiting, as only manufacturers can trace legitimate products. He cautioned that it is an expensive method, but it’s hard to copy.
Vyse said of Essentra’s presentation: "Brilliant work. It might not be an immediate risk to health, but it will certainly lead to it if unchecked. Although there is a high cost of prosecution, and in some parts of the world it is not necessarily a satisfactory outcome, the brand-owners must prosecute wherever possible. Successful brands must protect the products before an issue arises, as it is hard to prosecute later on."
Crowder said that the key to prevention is to make products difficult targets and so deter counterfeiters.
Next to speak were Actega’s Zwankhuizen and Michael Lucas, chief technical officer. As 60% of Actega’s turnover is related to food safety, the pair focused on this in their talk.
Zwankhuizen said: "There have been multiple instances where our company is asked to support brand-owners in their food-safety packaging development, so the company has decided to reorganise into segments based on supporting these needs: closures, flexible, labels, paper packaging and rigid metal. We used to be arranged by multiple legal entities, but now we’re organised by segment and application."
Lucas took over the presentation. He focused on the permutations when converting substrates. "Actega can provide protection for substrates or filling body-barrier properties, and against corrosion. We find formulations for coating a huge variety of materials, but when it comes to food packaging, we have fewer options for indirect-food-contact materials and fewer still for direct-food-contact materials. With each decision, the available technology becomes narrower."
Things to consider include which substrate treatment is best; what the optimal material, coating and coating line is to finish the package; what the most effective treatment is before and after coating; and what type of print lubrication is the favoured choice.
Ian James, from Mizkan Euro, asked the speakers from Actega if they thought France’s ban on BPA was an isolated instance or part of a wider trend. Lucas said that it depends on the different brand-owners. As a general rule, he said, BPA will be addressed where necessary, but banning a chemical outright when there are many years of experience of it working correctly is difficult.
Vyse said that it is important for a retailer or food producer to be able to distinguish between an actual scare and misinformation or panic. Where there is a real threat, the difficulty lies in being agile enough to counter it quickly.
Lucas said that if the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says something is safe, then it normally is. Zwankhuizen added: "Total compliance restricts the materials and the processes available to ensure food safety, which means there is an increased demand on limited resources and the accompanying prices that go with it."
Alistair Irvine manages the food-safety section at PIRA. He said that when there is a scare, the industry substitutes one substance with something it knows less about. "What we need is enough time to make the substitution without compromising food safety. There are 500 deaths a year in the UK due to food contamination, but this would be far higher without packaging to protect it."
The next to speak was Eric Appelman of Perstorp. He asked the audience: "How do we live on earth without consuming three times more than we need to produce our goods? The overall challenge is to enable innovation and provide the best possible building blocks to the supply chain. This is a huge supply chain requiring enormous investment upstream, and it will take years or even a decade to commercialise a product. During these ten years, the law can and will change."
A synchronised value chain is essential. Appelman said: "If they can keep us apprised of what they are doing at their end of the value chain, we can ensure the best possible products enter it at the other end." Appelman added that these products were compliant with the US Food and Drug Administration’s regulations for plastic and food contact.
Staying down the supply stream, Amanda Jones of Paragon Inks was next to present on legislation. She asked questions about why there was not a closer partnership between tertiary suppliers like Paragon and brand-owners.
"There is no grey area in food safety," Jones said. "We can never assume what the converter, brand-owner or printer wants. Communication is vital, as is trust, for solving migration.
"Third-party testing is vital. Non-disclosure agreements [NDAs] are paramount; we have produced more NDAs in the past 18 months than in the past ten years. It’s exponential, but it’s what needs to happen to open up to each other in support of food safety and migration."
Kuraray’s Cynthia Tenniers gave the final presentation. Kuraray owns Eval and is the leading EVOH producer, which provides gas and functional barriers. Tenniers expressed concern about mineral oil and the potential impact on consumer health. She said that there is no real regulation yet, but the German Government is working on creating suitable ordinances.
Functional barriers in primary packaging should be the main focus, according to Tenniers. She said that secondary packaging can be made out of recycled cardboard, but there is still a potential health risk, so covering primary and secondary packaging is efficient and healthy for consumers.
Although there are still questions that need answers, the event was a success. Delegates finished the evening with a sense of purpose and useful information to share with their companies.