In a scientific study published on February 1, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Miguel Lago and Luke Ackerman from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report on the application of three different mass spectrometry-based techniques for detection, identification and set-off assessment of print-related substances from three food packaging samples.

Set-off refers to an unintentional contamination of the food-contact surface occurring when products are stored in such a way that the inner (food-contact) part of a package comes in contact with the outer (printed) surface of adjacent packages, as for example in coffee cups stored in stacks (FPF reported). A total of 110 molecules were identified, among them at least five novel print-related contaminants. Evidence for set-off or presence on both sides of the package was obtained for 30 molecules, including 14 photoinitiators and seven other print-related substances. The identified compounds correlated well with the ink formulation of each packaging sample.

The study demonstrates that using multiple analytical techniques is advantageous when screening for non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), like most of the molecules identified in this study. The results obtained by the different methods complement each other and allow for better management of false positives and false negatives. The list of compounds identified in this work can serve as a guide in future assessments of print-related contaminants.


Lago, M. and Ackerman, L. (2016). “Identification of print-related contaminants in food packaging.Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A (published online February 1, 2016)