Urban gardening, open source gardens or a simple vegetable patch in your backyard – the trend is toward do-it-yourself farm-to-table living.
Regardless of whether it is the obligatory basil pot, tomato plants on the balcony or a raised garden bed with potatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots – many people have stopped trusting industrial and mass-produced grocery store goods.
Food and beverage manufacturers are facing their greatest challenge – risk assessment of materials that come into contact with food.
Recognize the substance and handle it appropriately
In this context, food contact products can be categorized into two groups: food contact materials (FCM) and food contact substances (FCS).
Food contact materials involve packaging intended to protect food from microorganisms, as well as to make the use, handling, transport, distribution and sale of food easier and more hygienic.
Food contact substances are the chemicals used to manufacture the packaging itself. They inevitably come in contact with food, as these substances can migrate and impact the health and safety of consumers.
It is essential to conduct risk assessments of these substances.
Generally, food contact materials contain many substances, like source materials, monomers, (molecules that contribute to the essential structure and form a polymer), and additives that can contain substantial contaminants like microorganisms and chemicals.
If they get into food, they reduce the quality and can lead to illness for those who consume the product.
It is imperative that manufacturers of food contact materials verify the level and conditions that substances may be exposed to in the packaging process.
Manufacturers must test the potential toxicity of the materials and the migration rate of chemicals and microorganisms related to these products.
Be aware of and adhere to global guidelines
Food and beverage companies should also know their materials inside and out, analyze and document the substances in them, and ensure traceability. Otherwise, FCS and FCM can quickly jeopardize the quality of food production as well as the safety and health of consumers.
The biggest challenge risk assessments face is ever-changing guidelines, regulations and standards, none of which are global or comprehensive. This leads to inconsistent documentation, variable scope in the design of chemical analysis procedures, and false estimations of these substances.
Added to the problem of country-specific differences, which pose particular challenges to manufacturers who supply their products in multiple countries.
The EU, for example, has strict regulations regarding the use and monitoring of food contact materials and substances. Regardless of which materials are used, their compositions cannot alter the natural properties of the food. If this happens, the regulatory guidelines will not be met – and the manufacturer may not sell the product as intended. The same applies in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations, require that all food contact materials and substances be classified and authorized by the FDA as indirect food additives before they can be allowed in the manufacturing process.
Similar conditions are enforced by regulations in China, New Zealand and Australia.
Risk assessment as a challenge and an opportunity
When analyzing chemical food contact substances, the challenge is not only to find out which substances are in which products, but to determine whether some substances originated in the production chain and migrated to the food, complicating the risk assessment process.
The danger lies in the unknown – some substances can have a significant negative impact on the human body, often without the consumer realizing the origin of the contaminate.
The only way to prevent contamination and risk to consumer health – as well as potential permanent damage to manufacturers reputations – is to avoid or mitigate the risks of false assessments.
Despite strict regulatory standards and compliance requirements, a lack of consistent and comprehensive guidelines persists. Quite often, existing standards are insufficient and incomplete and extensive data regarding the hazardous properties of many substances is severely lacking.
Government agencies and legislators are not the only ones responsible for implementing standardized rules for analyzing and handling food contact materials and substances. Food and beverage industry organizations must also cooperate.
Awareness is key – only when accurate information is readily available can food engineers and manufacturers of recipe-based products improve their processes and external communications.
Successful and sustainable organizations, in the absence of standardized regulations, are taking the lead – they are choosing how to handle food contact substances, leading to variations in corporate behavior in terms of risk assessment of with potentially hazardous substances.
Many are choosing an independent third-party review process as an initial step to protect their customers.
This brings up the issue of communication. Knowledge sharing, allowing others to learn from your experiences, and publicly sharing the results of analyses is the best way to gauge the effects of certain substances. Previously, risk assessment primarily targeted monomers and additives, however, those are not the only materials that are capable of releasing substances that may come into contact with food. Any unwanted byproducts, contaminants, impurities or breakdown products can migrate into food or beverages.
Until manufacturers employ a comprehensive innovative, end-to-end solution, complete risk assessment information will remain elusive.
Complete documentation from start to finish
Enhanced digital solutions are required to implement complete monitoring and control of food contact substances. It is crucial for food engineers and manufacturers to focus on the traceability of all the materials and the substances they use. Successful organizations with global impact put their trust into clear, concise processes documentation – this is the only way to backtrack through the production chain and ensure the quality and safety of all food contact substances, which allows for the detection and prevention of potential risk factors.
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