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How Sustainable Quality Processes Can Secure a Sustainable Future

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How can laboratories maintain pace with ever-changing regulations for Food Contact Materials and packaging? How do we ensure a sustainable quality control process to secure a sustainable future for our favourite food and drinks? To celebrate the launch of CONTACT, our new proficiency testing scheme designed for analysis of Food Contact Materials and Packaging, LGC AXIO Proficiency Testing investigates this vital sector. 


THE EVER-GROWING demand that the foods we consume are both safe and sustainable adds up to a massive challenge for the laboratory scientist. With both consumers and manufacturers driving the development of new eco-friendly food and packaging products, Food Contact Materials (FCM) analysis is a field that is constantly, rapidly evolving. The greater use of recycled and reused paper and cardboard in food packaging is just one of a number of factors currently adding to the complexity of FCM analysis. 


Scientists involved in monitoring FCMs are often the first line of defence against the many risks of non-intentional chemical migration into food, safeguarding not just the health of consumers but also their organisation’s reputation and bottom line. 


Kitchen utensils


Of course, FCMs have always been about more than food packaging: they also encompass possible hazards in everything from factory machinery to kitchen utensils and tableware, tote bins and preparation surfaces. The sheer scope of potential contamination sources means that FCM has always been a particularly challenging area of control, regulation and risk management. But, with the use of cellulose, starch-based materials and so-called ‘active’ packaging likely to increase exponentially in the next few years, demand for laboratory testing to assess the levels of non-intentional chemical migration from packaging into food (CMPF) is also expected to soar. 


The current regulatory environment is watchful, meanwhile. In the last decade or so, food safety bodies across the globe have intensified their scrutiny of food packaging chemicals and their potential adverse effects on human health. In 2011, the European Union set maximum migration limits on several phthalates used in food packaging because of their multiple toxic effects - including those on the immune system, neural development, and reproductive functions. Phthalates are commonly used in food packaging and production materials, such as PVC tubing, gaskets, cling wraps, printing inks, paper and cardboard packaging, plus laminated aluminium foil. 


In 2020, the EU also banned phthalates from a wide range of children’s toys, cosmetics and consumer goods, while they are also attracting close scrutiny from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Due to phthalates’ lipophilic nature, contamination is a particular problem in fatty foods, and studies have revealed consistently high levels of phthalates in vegetable oils sold in the North American, European and Asian consumer markets. In California, they are on the state’s Candidate Chemicals List of substances with at least one quality that can harm people or the environment, while Australia recently carried out a major review of phthalate levels in the country’s most popular foods. The study - by Food Standards Australia New Zealand – concluded that phthalate levels in Australia were below international Health Based Guidance Values, and therefore not a threat to the country’s population. It did, however, find that some mainly small and medium-sized food businesses had “poor awareness of Chemical Migration from Packaging into Food and knowledge of suitable control measures.” 


Cling film


This vigilant regulatory climate, and the increase in new packaging products, means that the number of packaging and labelling orders in various regions is also expected to grow – with responsibility for compliance landing squarely on the lab scientist’s workbench. Every material produced must adhere to regulations, so that any potential transfer to foods does not compromise food safety. Nor should FCMs change the composition of the food in an unacceptable way, or affect taste and odour adversely. In this context, the challenge for laboratories is to help deliver the safe products that consumers and regulators demand, while also keeping pace with the changing analytical problems that new innovations bring. 


But to play their part in delivering a more sustainable world, laboratory professionals must also look to the sustainability and integrity of their own processes by ensuring that their analytical work is consistent and of an appropriate standard. There are a number of elements a laboratory must consider when incorporating quality control processes - such as quality reference materials, and proficiency testing (PT). Regular participation in PT can help laboratories to verify their methodology and equipment, identify training requirements within teams, and manage early warning signs to prevent headaches such as brand damaging and expensive recalls. 


For 40 years, AXIO Proficiency Testing has been a trusted partner for laboratory professionals working to keep food safe for everyone. The latest sample in our CONTACT Proficiency Testing scheme - PT-CO-04 – targets Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and is supplied in a matrix of 20ml vegetable/seed oil form. CONTACT also features high-quality samples designed to support your laboratory’s quantitative analysis of Bisphenol A and S, Primary Aromatic Amines, plus Lead and Cadmium content. 


Drawing on decades of proficiency testing expertise and our truly global reach, AXIO is your perfect partner in proficiency testing. 


Head to lgcstandards.com/AXIO to find out more and place your order. 


LGC: Science for a safer world 


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