An article by Esther Asensio and colleagues from the Department of Analytical Chemistry, University of Zaragoza, Spain, published on May 29, 2020, in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, reports on migration of volatile compounds from “natural biomaterials,” namely “two different types of dishes (wheat pulp and wood) available in the market for use in catering services.” Both types of products are “promoted for contact with any kind of foodstuff even at high temperature, up to 170 °C (case of wheat pulp dishes).” The authors applied standard migration testing procedures prescribed for plastic food contact materials (FCMs), with 10% ethanol, 3% acetic acid, and 95% ethanol used as food simulants, and at temperatures up to 70 °C.
A total of 67 compounds were identified in the migrates, with significant differences observed between the type of dish or simulant used. Most of the identified migrants “are used in manufacturing paper, adhesives and food packaging industry, its use being a priority in containers in contact with food, specifically in the manufacture of paper dishes,” while others have “vegetal origin” or could be introduced as contaminants. The authors specify that synthetic, industrial chemicals were also present in the migrate, despite the raw materials being of natural origin, and suggest that this could be due to processing at manufacturing sites commonly used for “conventional plastics” as well. All compounds with an assigned specific migration limit (SML) were found to be legally compliant, i.e., their migration was in “the order of three times lower than the established limits.”
The authors conclude that “the wheat pulp and wood dishes used for single use in catering are safe with respect to volatile substances released from them, in intended use conditions.” Notably, in this context, “safe” means legally compliant. However, the authors also state that “non-volatile substances will need further study, as the identification of migrants is much more difficult and requires a study in depth. In addition, some of these materials can be used at high temperatures (170 °C) so it will be necessary to study the migration that takes place in these conditions.”
Asensio, E., et al. (2020). “Migration of volatile compounds from natural biomaterials and their safety evaluation as food contact materials.” Food Chemical Toxicology 142: 111457.