packagingOne of the most eye-catching items in a supermarket for many consumers could simply be a brightly colored package that contains the food we buy. We often take for granted that neatly packaged food items are safe, fresh, and protected from contamination coming from something as simple as dust in the air. Packaging also provides a great barrier against microbial contamination, which has recently been of great concern as media reports call attention to E. Coli and other microbial food borne outbreaks on a routine basis.

It is therefore clear that packaging is an essential element of a safe food supply chain with its main purpose to preserve the food it covers and to maintain its quality over the course of the products shelf life. However, most consumers are probably unaware that the chemical components used in the packaging can migrate into the food and present an even greater threat. Food and beverages can interact strongly with any surface that they come into contact with and can potentially impact the quality of the product. For example, phthalates can migrate from the packaging into food, and there are certain phthalates that can potentially disrupt the human endocrine system. Inorganic tin and its compounds are poorly absorbed in the intestinal tract and can have lasting harmful effects that have not been documented. The metal can be introduced as a contaminant during processing of food products and can accumulate during storage due to leaching from containers. Bisphenols A and B are monomers used in the production of epoxy resins and plastics and are widely used in food and drink packages.  Bisphenol A and liquid obtained from vegetables in plastic-coated cans have been shown to be estrogenic in human breast cancer cells. Emerging topics in the area of food packaging safety include analysis of nanoparticles and research into contaminants known collectively as non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), which focuses on identification of non-expected or unknown compounds.

Fortunately, regulations regarding use of food packaging materials have been in place and are constantly evolving. The European Union, for example, has a list of starting materials and plastics additives restricted to substances that are deemed safe for food packaging. They also have comprehensive regulations on NAIS which places responsibility on food producers to demonstrate due diligence for determination of unknown substances.

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Thermo Fisher Scientific offers the widest range of analytical tools along with global experts for analyzing food packaging materials and their potential migration into the food. Sample preparation products and a wide range of analytical techniques, such as GC/MS, GC/MS/MS, LC/MS/MS (with high resolution accurate mass instrumentation), UHPLC, atomic absorption spectrometry, and ICP-MS come together to provide a complete solution for food producers and packaging manufacturers to ensure that regulatory requirements are met and that the materials are inert and safe.

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