Where is EU legislation regarding BPA in food and beverage packaging currently at, and what does the future look like? An expert on this subject - Lorena Pla Muñoz, Chromatography Laboratory researcher at AIMPLAS - tells us more.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that was first used in 1960 in combination with other substances to make polymers and resins. It is mainly used in the manufacture of polycarbonates for the production of food contact materials such as kitchen containers, packaging and cooking utensils. Besides food contact applications, this compound is used in products such as toys, baby dummies, printing inks and flame retardants.
In recent years, BPA has been considered a compound of interest because of its potential as an endocrine disruptor. Through regulations such as Regulation (EC) 1935/2004, the European Union establishes the procedures to be followed so that packaging intended to come into contact with food does not endanger human health.
Control of plastics is even more exhaustive, given that they are one of the few groups of materials with specific measures through Regulation (EU) 10/2011, which is currently in its 17th amendment, Regulation (EU) 2023/1627, and which has already updated the specific migration limit established for BPA on other occasions.
Several European and American organizations, including the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), systematically assess the potential hazardousness of substances used in different materials intended to come into contact with food.
ECHA has worked with Member States to assess the toxicity of a total of 148 bisphenols, 34 of which have been listed under the REACH Regulation as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), which includes a total of 233 substances. The aim is to protect consumers and the environment from possible endocrine-disrupting effects.
In 2015, EFSA determined that BPA did not pose a health risk to consumers of any age group based on exposure and the low concentration at which it was found in food contact materials. In 2017, following a public consultation, EFSA adopted a scientific protocol for reassessment of the potential hazard of BPA, including determination of the tolerable daily intake (TDI), an estimate of the amount of a substance, expressed in terms of body weight, that can be consumed daily over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to the consumer’s health.
EFSA announced the results of its reassessment of the health risks associated with exposure to BPA at the end of 2021. The panel of experts established the tolerable daily intake from 4 g/kg body weight (bw) to 2 ng/kg bw. The last time EFSA reduced the TDI, the European Commission translated the change into a lower specific migration limit (SML) for BPA in food contact materials. However, as the TDI is considered too low to continue the use of BPA subject to a SML, the Commission is proposing to ban the intentional use of BPA.
In terms of US legislation, in 2022, the FDA agreed to reconsider the safety of using BPA in cans, plastic bottles and other food contact materials.
Recycled plastic food contact materials
Another point for consideration is the need to increase the use of recycled materials in food packaging. Major economic and environmental advances are expected from this practice, which means it is important to be aware of legislative requirements on the use of recycled plastic food contact materials and the administrative and legal procedures to be followed.
However, if recycled materials are not suitably processed, they can be a source of contaminants. Along these lines, Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 282/2008, was adopted at the end of 2022.
It sets out suitable technologies to ensure the quality of recycled plastic materials. At AIMPLAS, we carry out studies to verify the effectiveness of companies’ decontamination processes. We also participate in different projects to develop technologies for decontamination of polyolefins in food contact applications, as well as other projects to make packaging safer in general.
New Spanish Law 7/2022, which establishes a tax on the amount of non-recycled plastic used in non-reusable packaging, should also be taken into account. This measure is expected to be transposed into other Member States’ national legislation in the coming years.
The law aims to reduce the negative effects of generating and managing waste as much as possible, based on the principles of the circular economy, for more efficient use of resources. These measures encourage the increased use of recycled plastic in packaging intended to come into contact with food.
It must therefore be considered that recycling processes and raw materials from recycled plastic can be a source of BPA in products because BPA may be present even when it has not been intentionally added to the material. It is therefore crucial to keep track of these substances and carry out relevant tests to ensure that they are not present in materials in concentrations that may be hazardous to health.
Food packaging control is essential to ensure that there is no risk to human health based on currently stipulated limits. AIMPLAS offers companies advice and analysis of different bisphenols using highly sensitive chromatographic methods.
The method used at AIMPLAS to analyse bisphenols is high-performance liquid chromatography combined with mass spectrometry, which allows the detection and quantification of substances at trace levels. The advantage of this method is its high sensitivity and selectivity, which makes it extremely effective for complex matrices such as plastics and food simulants. It can also be used to simultaneously detect several bisphenols in a single analysis.
The study can be performed in two ways: a) on food simulants after migration tests, in which the conditions of actual use of the material (type of food, temperature and contact time) are taken into account, and b) directly on the material by extracting the compounds of interest with solvents, which makes it a more restrictive test.
The equipment used by AIMPLAS is able to detect and quantify limits below those currently set by Regulation (EU) 10/2011, which stipulates a maximum specific migration limit of 0.05 mg/kg of food simulant. This enables companies to be one step ahead of future requirements.
Regarding these new trends, AIMPLAS is working on R&D projects involving bisphenols and new coating systems designed to reduce, eliminate or encapsulate the content of endocrine disruptors as much as possible. Each project is expected to lead to several specific applications based on their regulatory compliance and functionality as defined by their technical characterization.
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