Packaging for foodstuffs comes in many different forms, based on technical requirements throughout the supply chain, as well as marketing needs (like brand identity or consumer information) and other criteria. The layer that is in direct contact with the food or beverage is called “food contact material”.
For some types of food packaging the food contact material determines the name: a plastic bottle is made of plastic and has this material type in direct contact with the foodstuff. For glass jars the materials in contact with the foodstuff are glass and coated metal from the closure. In the case of beverage cartons the direct food contact layer is not carton, but laminated plastic. For aluminium cans a coating is in direct contact with the beverage. Some types of paper can also be coated (for example with a grease-proof coating).
The term food contact material applies to food (and beverage) packaging, but also to any other materials that come into contact with food, either during storage, processing and filling, or consumption (like cooking utensils).
In general, any food contact material should not release chemicals into the food at quantities that can harm human health (see EU 1935/2004, Article 3 and US 21CFR174). In order to assess the health impacts related to food packaging it is therefore essential to (1) understand the chemical composition of the packaging material and (2) the levels at which these compounds can partition into foodstuffs, a process that is known as migration.
Please click on the primary packaging material of your interest for further information:
Fact Sheets on Five Food Packaging Materials
In July 2021, a set of fact sheets were published that provide brief summaries of applications, material properties, chemical safety, and end-of-life options for five food packaging materials. They focus further on the recycling of the different materials and explain why material properties have an influence on the chemical safety as well as the recyclability. Each of the fact sheets can be downloaded directly using the buttons below.