Food grade plastics: standards and certifications

Standards, certifications and everything you need to know about food grade plastics

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Plastics are the most commonly used materials for food packaging, storage and storage. They offer various advantages, such as high resistance and durability, but also a high level of hygiene, which is essential in the food industry to ensure the quality of products and the health and safety of consumers. To be considered suitable for contact with food, plastics must be constantly checked and passed specific tests, to certify that they do not contain substances that could compromise the safety or alter the organoleptic characteristics of food.   

Manufacturers of food grade materials and products must comply with national and European safety regulations to ensure and certify the conformity of products, as well as ensuring complete control and monitoring at every stage of production. Let us look specifically at food plastics and the main rules on direct contact with food.

Food grade plastics: what are they?

Food grade plastics belong to the so-called MOCA (Materials and Objects in Contact with Food) and are commonly used in the food industry to package and store food, and to create casings and packaging suitable for handling and transport. Chemically, plastics are polymers (molecules characterized by linear or branched chains) obtained through polymerization reactions. Depending on the starting materials and the conditions in which the reaction takes place, plastics with different properties and characteristics can be obtained, more or less suitable for specific uses. 

Among the plastic materials suitable for contact with the most common foods, recognized and authorized by the European Union, we find:  

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate), one of the most widely used materials in the food industry for food packaging and for the production of disposable containers or containers for certain types of food and beverages; 
  • HDPE (high density polyethylene), a safe and resistant material, generally used to make containers for liquids and shopping bags; 
  • LDPE (low density polyethylene), a very light plastic, resistant to chemical agents, but sensitive to heat (therefore not suitable for contact with hot food or beverages). It is used for the production of packaging, bags and films for food; 
  • PP (polypropylene), the food grade plastic considered safer, widely used to make bottles, but also plastic food trays, grilled boards and smooth boards for storage and handling of food. 

Safety of food grade plastics: standards and certifications

To ensure maximum safety and perfect preservation of food, plastic materials suitable for food contact must comply with precise EC standards and directives, in addition to the national ministerial decree. Regulation EC 1935/2004, which is the reference standard for all MOCA, provides that plastics must not release components or additives in quantities which endanger the health of consumers and must not alter the composition and characteristics of foods.

Regulation EC 2023/06
complements and clarifies the 1935/2004 standard, providing the basic indications to produce the MOCA in such a way that:

  • do not damage the health of the consumer;
  • do not change the composition of the food in an unacceptable way;
  • do not cause deterioration of its organoleptic characteristics;

EU Regulation n. 10/2011: specific rules for plastic materials and articles

To ensure the compliance of the materials used, the industry must establish an effective quality control system and ensure the passing of specific migration tests, necessary to assess the amount of substances that could be transferred from plastic to food. Migration tests are carried out using food simulants (with food-like properties), which are listed in Annex I to EU Regulation 10/2011. The Regulation constitutes a specific measure within the meaning of Article 5 of Regulation EC 1935/2004 and lays down basic rules for the manufacture and marketing of plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. 

In 2020 the European Union published the EU Regulation 2020/1245, which amends Regulation 10/2011, introducing some modifications in the analysis for the evaluation of migrations for repeated-use objects and new test conditions for global migration analyses on materials used at short-lived ambient temperatures. 

Safe food grade plastics: IFT’s certified food technologies

Food contact compliance of all plastics used in the production of IFT’s food technologies is a top priority for the company. All products suitable for food contact are in fact manufactured in full compliance with the national ministerial decree of 21/03/1973 and s.m. and the EC directives on contact with food: EC Regulation 10/2011 (migration tests performed on products)EC Regulation 1935/2004 and 2023/2006, EC Directive 19/2007 and EC Directive 2002/1972. 

To ensure that customers obtain high quality products, IFT also guarantees full traceability and a quality management system aligned with international standards. The company has obtained the BRC Storage and Distribution certification, which defines the requirements for the storage, distribution and wholesale marketing of pre-packaged and bulk food products, as well as packaging materials and non-food products. The certification is valid for all the products available in the catalog, which are constantly monitored, from production to the sales phase, so as to ensure complete compliance and safety.