European Union (EU) restrictions on using plastics as food contact materials may become more rigorous after a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report suggesting more comprehensive assessments on how plastic packaging chemicals leach into food.

The advice has come from EFSA’s panel on food contact materials, which wants more care in estimating consumer exposure, particularly for infants and toddlers. Under existing EU assessments, calculations are made assuming that consumers are adults weighing 60kg, eating 17g of a food substance per kg of body weight per day (g/1kg of bw/day). This, the panel has concluded, could generate unreliable data.

Babies, for instance, could consume significantly more infant formula as a proportion of their body weight, so for babies, assessments should assume that 150g/kg body weight per day of food may be consumed, said the EFSA panel. For toddlers, the same principles could apply – but as they are larger, an assumption of 50g per kg of body weight daily might make for more accurate chemical exposure calculations.

The panel also suggests that two other grades of assessment should be introduced – of 80g/1kg of bw/day and 20g/1kg of bw/day.

These suggestions are being passed to the European Commission, which will discuss them with EU member state regulators, and then direct EFSA on how consumer protection rules should be upgraded. The EU agency will then draft detailed data-based requirements for plastic packaging and food manufacturers.

The panel’s advice also includes that:

Assessments identifying and evaluating all substances migrating chemicals into food should focus more on finished materials and articles, including the manufacturing process used, rather than concentrating on the substances used.
The amount of toxicity data needed should be related to expected human exposure, with the panel suggesting that there are three threshold levels of human exposure. These would be 1.5, 30 and 80 microgrammes/kilogramme of body weight per day, as triggers for requiring additional toxicity data; and
Genotoxicity testing for substances used in food contact materials should be mandatory, even in cases of low exposure.
“This opinion reflects both advances in science and our experience over the last decade in applying existing EU guidelines,” said panel member and opinion working group chair Dr Laurence Castle.

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