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What are the laws governing food contact materials?


The European Framework Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004 on Materials and Articles Intended to Come into Contact with Foodstuffs lays down the general safety requirements for all materials and articles that come into contact with food. The regulation also ensures that they do not change the nature, substance or quality of the food.

Food contact materials and articles include so-called 'active' and 'intelligent' food contact materials and articles that, in their finished state, are intended to come into contact with food.

Examples of food contact materials and articles include food packaging, cookware, cutlery, tableware, work surfaces and food processing machinery and equipment.

The law also covers materials and articles that come into contact with foods or transfer their constituents to food (which may include printing inks and adhesive labels, for example).

However, it excludes covering or coating substances that are part of the food and may be eaten with it, such as sausage skin. Also excluded are materials and articles that are supplied as antiques.


Are there any specific requirements for particular materials?

  • The Plastic Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2009 (as amended) regulate materials and articles made from plastic.
  • The Material and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2005 regulate the manufacture of coated and uncoated regenerated cellulose film, also known as Cellophane. The same regulation also controls the use of vinyl chloride monomer in the manufacture of food contact plastics.
  • Council Directive 84/500/EEC as amended by Commission Directive 2005/31/EC deals with the migration into food of lead and cadmium from ceramic articles intended to be brought into contact with food.

Other rules apply to packaging waste and general food hygiene.


What regulations govern plastics?

The Plastic Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2009, (which supersedes the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2008 amendment regulations) set an overall migration limit for all food contact plastics. This limit is 10 milligrams per square decimetre of plastic surface area in general.

However, a limit of 60 milligrams per kilogram of food applies specifically in the case of containers or similar receptacles with a capacity between 0.5 and 10 litres, or which have a contact area that cannot be determined and for sealing devices such as caps, gaskets and stoppers.

The regulations also establish:

  • 'positive lists’ of monomers, which are chemical compounds that can link together to form longer molecules with repeating structures (polymers); and starting substances permitted for use in the manufacture of food contact plastics
  • time limits on their use
  • specific migration limits
  • a list of additives approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for use in food contact plastics

Finally, the regulations establish rules for testing migration from food contact plastics and for checking compliance with the regulations.


What are the labelling requirements for food contact materials?

Unless the food contact use is obvious, the EC regulation requires that food contact materials and articles that aren’t in contact with food when sold, should be accompanied by either the words 'for food contact', or a specific indication as to their use. The official symbol, of the wineglass and fork, can be used.

If necessary, special instructions for the safe and appropriate use of the material or article must also be given, along with the name, and address of the manufacturer, processor or seller.


Does the Food Safety Agency (FSA) approve food contact materials?

No, the FSA does not approve products before they are allowed on the market. But it does help ensure they are safe and comply with the legal maximum levels of migration allowed for consumer protection, based on the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority.


Will packaging material approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comply with UK and EC legislation?

Not necessarily. Where there are already EU-wide rules in force in the UK, these rules must be complied with. If there are no specific rules, the general requirements laid down in the European Regulation will have to be met.

FDA approval might be relevant in some instances where, in the case of legal action, a court might accept this as part of a defence against prosecution. But this is not a compulsory legal requirement in the United Kingdom.

Is it safe to reuse packaging?

Often packaging is designed to be used once with one food and it might not be safe to use it with others, or for a different purpose. If containers or wrappings are used in a way they weren't designed for, chemicals could transfer from them into the food in greater amounts than would otherwise be expected.

There are a number of points you should consider if you're thinking about re-using packaging:

  • always follow the manufacturer's instructions; if these don't say the container can be re-used, use something else that you know can be used safely
  • re-use containers and packaging on a like-for-like basis. For example if a container was used for cold food when you bought it, don't put hot food in it when you re-use it
  • only microwave food in containers or tubs that are clearly labelled 'microwave safe'
  • only put containers into a dishwasher if they are clearly labelled 'dishwasher safe'
  • do not re-use empty cans or tins to cook or store food


Where can I get more information about food contact materials?


Food Contact Materials Unit
Food Standards Agency
Aviation House, 125 Kingsway
London WC2B 6NH

Tel: 020 7276 8548
Fax: 020 7276 8514


The above information has been sourced from:


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