Against a background of increasing consumer and market sensitivity to food safety, global adhesive specialist H.B. Fuller, which has nearly 130 years in the business, is helping to ensure that packaging adhesives are fit for the purpose of keeping food safe.
The potential for migration of harmful contaminants from packaging materials into food is an important issue. Publicity about Bisphenol A in baby bottles, migration of non-evaluated UV inks and contamination by mineral oils (MOSH/MOAH) through packaging made from recycled paper has made migration a worrying concern.
EU framework regulation (EC) 1935/2004 requires that possible migration - considered in terms of quantity and quality - should be monitored within the supply chain. With the introduction of regulation (EU) 10/2011, relating specifically to plastic materials, previous regulation was consolidated.
This still leaves a number of important non-plastic material groups - including adhesives, paper, printing inks and coatings - without standardised European regulation.
Although adhesives are not covered by regulation (EU) 10/2011, adhesive suppliers are legally obliged to provide a sufficient amount of information to allow packaging and food manufacturers to demonstrate the compliance of the final packaging.
The Association of the European Adhesive and Sealant Industry (FEICA) has responded by producing clear guidance on food-contact-status declaration for adhesives, covering the obligations of the adhesive supplier and the adhesive user.
Alexandra Ross, H.B. Fuller's product regulatory specialist, chairs the FEICA Paper and Packaging Working Group, which developed these guidelines. As a graduate engineer in food technology, she has been a leader in regulatory affairs - with a focus on food contact compliance - for more than 15 years.
Through close cooperation with FEICA and other industry organisations, H.B. Fuller helps shape the development of new regulations and ensures their practicality. This also places the company in a position to fulfil legal requirements and to give customers up-to-date information and advice on adhesive formulations and regulations.
"We are working closely with customers and the whole supply chain to help get everyone up to speed with the law's requirements, ensuring that they stay ahead of changes, that they maintain a competitive edge and, most importantly, that consumers are protected," says Ross. "We believe that this is an important and worthwhile investment of our time."
H.B. Fuller's expertise covers the spectrum of adhesive technologies used in packaging, which may require different approaches when it comes to food safety.
For example, migration risk tends to be low for hot melt adhesives used in end-of-line packaging or labelling, as the food is already contained by its primary packaging. The same is true for water-based adhesives when used for labelling, corrugated packaging or carton sealing - especially as the amount of adhesive in relation to the packed food is generally low. Reactive adhesives used for laminating flexible packaging need to be carefully evaluated under the plastics regulation.
The food packaging industry is looking at solutions to create barriers to migration. Producers of cartons and folding boxes can use virgin fibre, rather than recycled materials. In addition, they can apply coatings to create a barrier or even integrate a layer of activated carbon to absorb possible migrant substances. Nevertheless, the choice of adhesives for any kind of packaging will continue to be crucial to food safety.
"At H.B. Fuller, we are committed not only to providing the best possible advice to customers and regulatory bodies, but also to developing new low-migration adhesive products," Ross says. "Our innovative, low-migration Advantra adhesives are good examples of that development in action."