Food contact materials
Ensuring that what we eat is safe does not stop at testing the food itself. Everything that comes in contact with food as it is produced, packaged, transported, stored, prepared and consumed, also needs to be safe. This includes materials such as plastics, paper and board, metals, ceramics which are commonly used in manufacturing food packaging, and also kitchenware and cutlery and food processing equipment.
The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) hosts the European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) for Food Contact Materials (FCM) - one of the focal points in Europe for ensuring the effectiveness of testing for contamination from contact materials.
The Institute works closely with National Reference Laboratories in EU Member States to ensure that there are suitable standardised methods for measuring migration of chemicals from packaging into food. The Institute also assesses the proficiency of the testing laboratories to make sure EU Member States achieve comparable analytical results.
Responsive to risks
The Institute is always alert to new potential risks in this area. New guidelines on kitchenware testing conditions were recently drawn up by the Institute following a warning from the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed which had measured a high release of chemicals from some kitchenware items. Furthermore, the Institute's participation in a European-wide research project on recycled plastic food packaging has also led to new EU-guidelines for the safe recycling of materials.
Migration of harmful chemicals can also occur from printing inks used on food-packaging material, so the Institute has developed and validated a method specifically for measuring this effect.
Finally, since infants and babies are potentially more vulnerable to harmful chemicals, the Institute also focuses on the release of substances from baby bottles and materials used for the packaging and serving of baby food.