Packaged food – new regulatory landscape and safe packaging

The International Packaging Conclave this year was one of the hotly anticipated events at PackPlus 2018, and it didn’t disappoint. Organized by Next Events and sponsored by Seigwerk, the theme of the conclave was ‘Safe Packaging – New Regulatory Landscape.’ Panelists at the conclave debated safety aspect of packaged food in the country, especially with regard to food contact safety and use of components like inks, coatings and adhesives for packaging.

Kumar Anil, advisor (standards), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), delivered the keynote speech at the event and shared interesting details about the history of FSSAI and its purpose. Established under the Food Safety and Standard Act in 2006, the autonomous body has the mandate to frame regulations and set standards for food articles and specify suitable systems for enforcing them. Before FSSAI, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was the sole regulatory body, but it was more concerned with food adulteration than with overall food safety.

Anil also briefly explained the working and organizational structure of the FSSAI, and shared some of the key regulatory measures it had taken. Speaking on its current activities, he said FSSAI is set to release a slew of draft food safety regulations over the next few weeks. The body will welcome any recommendations from the industry regarding the draft regulations – and only after considering all feedback will finally release the new regulatory measures. He stressed that when implemented it would mark the first instance when comprehensive food packaging safety measures have been enforced at all levels in the industry.

Following Anil, Dr. Jorg-Peter Langhammer of Seigwerk from the European Union delivered the second keynote speech. He talked about the importance of safety regulations for the packaging industry, and gave a historical anecdote of the evolution of packaging safety regulation laws, especially those pertaining to printing inks, in Europe and the rest of the world. Switzerland was the first out of the blocks, in 2010, in enforcing safety guidelines, and was soon followed by other EU countries. During the speech he also dwelled on the importance of ‘perceived safety’ citing several instances, including the one related to photo initiators. Initially it was thought that the compound was only harmful when in direct contact with food, but later on it has been found to have potential health hazards in food packaging too.

Regulatory update session
The regulatory session was kick-started by Dr. AC Mishra, Joint Director (standards) of FSSAI, who discussed the technicalities involved in the proposed draft regulations. He said that the industry will have a period of around 60 days after release of draft regulation to register their feedback, post which the new regulation would take effect. He also informed that a number of new items like toluene and phthalates have been added to list of excluded ingredients, and gave a brief explanation on how the ban on these products would be enforced.

PP Sanyal, Convener – BIS Alert Panel, speaking after Dr. Mishra, drove home the need to ban toluene-based inks and prevent the direct exposure of food to offset lithography inks. He even called for introduction of new guidelines to regulate gravure printing cylinders.

The regulatory session also had a panel discussion on the changing regulatory landscape in the country, which was chaired by Ashish Pradhan of Seigwerk. Prominent members in the panel inlcuded Ranjan Sinha of Parksons Packaging, Dr. Jasvir Singh of DuPont Nutrition & Health, Sunil Bhagwat of Huhtamaki PPL, Saikat Acharya of GSK, and Barun Banerjee of Nestle. All the panelists agreed in one voice that there is a need to tighten the regulatory mechanism in food packaging. Dr. Jasvir Singh said that one of the hurdles facing the industry in adopting more stringent safety measures at the moment is the cost of compliance, and there must be some thought given to address that as well.

The panel discussion was followed by two presentations that showcased the transition of the industry to safe packaging. Sukhdev Saini of General Mills was one of the presenters.

Eliminating harmful items in packaging – A case study
Barun Banerjee of Nestle took the opportunity to present a case study showcasing how his organization eliminated toluene-based compounds from the packaging material. He said the company found toluene posed the most serious health risks to operators working in ink-based converters and those operating end-of-line packaging machines. Confronted with the situation, the company decided to drop toluene. The decision did cause some pain, as cost shot up by 5-13%. But on the other hand there were also some positives like the print quality improved and there was lower ink-lay. Also, the additional cost the company is bearing at the moment is expected to come down eventually once use of alternative ink-systems gains stem. To make the transition process smooth, Nestle worked in tandem with all supply-chain members.

Meanwhile, there was also one session on the use of adhesives and printing inks that may contain contaminants and other harmful additives. During the session, Dr. Nayan Bezbaruah of Henkel presented the perspective of adhesive manufacturers, while Dr. Evert Delbanco of Seigwerk shared the perspective of ink suppliers. Each of them also explained the measures they have in place to improve packaging safety.

The concluding comments at the conclave was articulated by AVPS Chakravarthi, managing director – EcoBliss, and global ambassador – World Packaging Organisation.

— Mahan Hazarika