Introduction

Food contact materials (FCMs) play a crucial role in preserving and packaging our food, ensuring its safety and quality throughout the supply chain. Traditionally, these materials have been made from conventional plastics and other synthetic materials. However, there is a growing interest in bio-based alternatives that are derived from renewable resources, such as plant-based polymers. While bio-based FCMs offer numerous environmental benefits, they also present unique safety challenges that need to be addressed.

Read: November Issue of Food Infotech Magazine.

Bio-based food contact materials (FCMs) are becoming increasingly popular as alternatives to traditional petroleum-based materials. These materials, derived from renewable resources such as plants or agricultural waste, offer the potential for reduced environmental impact and increased sustainability. However, like any FCM, bio-based materials present unique safety challenges that need to be addressed to ensure consumer protection.

The use of bio-based FCMs aligns with the increasing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly solutions in the food industry. These materials are often biodegradable, have a lower carbon footprint and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. However, their safety assessment requires careful consideration due to potential risks associated with their chemical composition and the complex interactions that occur between the material and the food it comes into contact with.

The Appeal of Bio-based FCMs

Bio-based FCMs have garnered attention due to their potential to revolutionize the packaging landscape. By utilizing renewable resources, these materials contribute to a circular economy model by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, which are both finite and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, they often exhibit biodegradability or compostability, thus addressing the issue of plastic pollution that persists in our ecosystems. The allure of bio-based FCMs lies in their ability to merge sustainability and functionality, offering a promising way forward for packaging practices.

Examples of Bio-based materials – natural polymers
The main examples of polymers directly extracted/removed from plant biomass include:

o Starch
o Cellulose
o Lignocellulose
o Gluten
o Zein
o Alginate
o Pectin
o Carrageenan

Examples of polymers derived from animal biomass include:

o Chitin / Chitosan
o Casein
o Gelatine

Materials from both animal and plant sources generally exhibit some degree of biodegradability. Modification of these natural polymers through chemical or enzymatic processes can be performed to improve packaging performance. The main examples are:
o Cellulose acetate
o Cellulose acetate butyrate
o Cellulose nitrate
o Regenerated cellulose
o Hydroxymethyl starch
o Hydroxypropyl starch
o Starch-acetate
o Starch-acrylamide

Bio-based materials – polymers derived from bio-based monomers

A diverse range of monomers can be obtained from biomass, especially if subject to microbial Fermentation. Examples include:
o Terephthalic acid, succinic acid, butanediol, adipic acid,
o Various amino acids, acetic acid, acetone, 2,3-butanediol, butyric acid, isopropanol, propionic acid, lactic acid, ethanol and a range of fatty acids.

Bio-Based Materials for use in Food Contact Applications

o Polyaspartic acid
o Polyester urethanes
o Poly(amide-esters)
o Poly(ester-urethanes)
o Polyanhydrides
o Polyethyleneglycol
o Polylactic acid
o Aliphatic / aromatic polyesters

Polymers obtained from microorganisms or genetically-modified bacteria.

Some microorganisms synthesize polymers and store them as an energy source. These polymers may be extracted, isolated, purified and used as plastics. Examples include PHA, PHB and polyhydroxyvalerate.

Bio-based FCMs offer a number of potential benefits, including:

• Made from renewable resources, which can help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels;
• Often biodegradable, which means that they can break down in the environment without harming it;
• Compostable, which means that they can be converted into nutrient-rich soil;
• Made with less energy and water than traditional FCMs.

Navigating Complex Challenges
However, the path toward ensuring the safety of bio-based FCMs is not without hurdles. Several multifaceted challenges need to be taken into account:
1. Chemical Composition and Migration

Bio-based FCMs are diverse, reflecting the range of source materials and manufacturing processes. This diversity impacts the potential for migration of substances from the packaging into the food. Ensuring that no harmful chemicals migrate and compromise food safety is of paramount importance.

2. Migration Testing

Developing robust and standardized methods for migration testing is crucial. These tests evaluate the potential transfer of substances, including additives, monomers, and impurities, from the packaging into the food, ensuring that these materials do not introduce hazards to consumers.

3. Biodegradation and Decomposition Products

Some bio-based materials might degrade over time, potentially generating by-products that could affect the safety of food. Understanding the behavior of these materials throughout their lifecycle and their potential impact on food safety is essential.

4. Balancing Barrier Properties

Achieving the right balance of barrier properties, such as resistance to oxygen and moisture, is vital for food preservation. Innovations are required to ensure that bio-based FCMs offer the necessary protection without compromising the safety of the packaged food.

5. Supply Chain Transparency

Guaranteeing the safety of bio-based FCMs necessitates transparency and traceability across the supply chain. From the sourcing of raw materials to production and distribution, transparency ensures accountability and quality control.

Regulatory Compliance

Adhering to regulatory frameworks is paramount. Bio-based FCMs must meet the same rigorous safety standards as conventional plastics to guarantee their suitability for food contact.

The variability of raw materials

Bio-based materials can vary in their composition and properties depending on the source, growing conditions and processing methods. This can make it difficult to ensure the safety of bio-based FCMs on a consistent basis. One solution is to use standardized raw materials and processing methods.

The lack of data on long-term safety

There is limited data on the long-term safety of bio-based FCMs. This is because they are a relatively new technology. More research is needed to assess the potential risks of bio-based FCMs over time.

The cost of bio-based FCMs

Bio-based FCMs are often more expensive than traditional petroleum-based FCMs. This is due to the cost of raw materials and processing. As the demand for bio-based FCMs increases, the cost is expected to come down.

Risk assessment

Thoroughly evaluate the composition, potential contaminants and migration behaviour of bio-based materials to identify any potential risks to food safety. Conduct toxicological studies and exposure assessments to determine the safety of these materials.

Fraud

Other potential barriers to the adoption of bio-based food contact materials, especially if derived from agrifood by-products, include variability in the availability and characteristics of the source materials. The authenticity of these source materials may also need to be considered to ensure supply chain integrity.

Addressing these challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach involving collaboration among various stakeholders. Scientists, toxicologists, regulators and industry experts must work together to develop a comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and establish effective risk management strategies. This includes conducting thorough toxicological assessments, implementing strict quality control measures throughout the supply chain and ensuring proper labelling and communication to inform consumers about the safe use of bio-based FCMs.

Holistic Approaches to Solutions
To address these challenges effectively, collaboration among stakeholders is imperative:
Research and Development

Invest in extensive research to comprehend the chemical and physical properties of bio-based materials. This understanding is critical for assessing their potential interactions with various types of food.

Standardization

Establish standardized testing methodologies tailored to the unique characteristics of bio-based FCMs. These protocols will ensure consistent and reliable safety assessments.

Regulatory Alignment

Harmonize regulatory guidelines on a global scale to facilitate the international trade of bio-based FCMs. This alignment will uphold food safety standards while supporting the adoption of sustainable packaging solutions.

Education

Raise awareness among manufacturers, consumers and regulatory bodies about the advantages and challenges of bio-based FCMs. Informed decision-making is pivotal for embracing these materials without compromising safety.

Innovation

Encourage the development of innovative solutions that address challenges such as barrier properties, biodegradation and migration. These solutions will drive the adoption of bio-based FCMs while maintaining rigorous food safety standards.

Establishing International Standards for the Safety of Bio-based FCM:

In the pursuit of sustainable packaging solutions, the establishment of International Standards for the Safety of Bio-based Food Contact Materials (FCMs) is a pivotal step. As these innovative materials gain prominence, it becomes paramount to ensure their safety across borders. Harmonized standards will not only bolster consumer confidence, but also facilitate global trade, encouraging the widespread adoption of eco-friendly packaging practices. By fostering collaboration among nations, we can collectively embrace the potential of bio-based FCMs while upholding the highest standards of food safety.

The use of bio-based FCMs is a promising way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and protect the environment. However, it is important to ensure that these materials are safe for human consumption. By addressing the challenges associated with bio-based FCMs, we can help to make them a more viable option for the future.

Conclusion

The shift toward bio-based FCMs is an essential step toward a more sustainable future. While these materials offer substantial promise, ensuring their safety for food contact is a complex endeavour that demands collaboration, research and regulatory alignment. By addressing the intricate challenges associated with bio-based FCMs, we can harness their potential benefits while safeguarding human health and environmental integrity. As the industry strives to strike a harmonious balance between sustainability and safety, upholding rigorous standards of food contact material safety remains an absolute priority.

It is expected that there will be an increase in new bio-based food contact materials that would be developed, which suggests that a risk assessment and approval processes for new material types should be standardized and guidelines documented. In general, it’s considered that risk assessment procedures applied to conventional fossil derived plastic food contact materials will be applicable to those that are bio-based and hence existing protocols can form the basis of guideline.

Ashutosh JaiswalAbout the Author:
Ashutosh Jaiswal
Head of Quality Assurance (India),
Shri Dutt India Pvt. Ltd.

Disclaimer:

The views/opinions expressed by authors on this website solely reflect the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views/opinions of the Editors/Publisher. Neither the Editors nor the Publisher can be held responsible and liable for consequences that may arise on account of errors/omissions appearing in the Articles/Opinions.

Author

An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

Write A Comment