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The EUs food packaging and food safety rules

The EU has perhaps the most advanced set of food safety regulations in the world. Let's have a look at it in more detail.

EU law provides rules that business operators must comply with. EU law may also be complemented with legislation at the national level.

EU rules on FCMs

EU rules on FCMs include general principles of safety and inertness for all FCMs and requirements to ensure their manufacturing process is well controlled.

Certain FCMs – ceramics, regenerated cellulose film, plastics (including recycled plastic) – are covered by specific EU rules on their composition and the maximum amount of substances allowed to migrate into food, known as specific migration limits (SML). These are established by EFSA on the basis of toxicity data of each specific substance.

The safety of FCM

The safety of FCM for example is tested both by the business operators placing them on the market and by the competent authorities of the Member States during official controls.

The European Reference Laboratory for FCM (EURL-FCM) provides scientific guidance on testing methods.

Monitoring programs

Member State authorities are also responsible for putting in place monitoring programs to check the levels and types of chemical residues found in water, food and the environment.

The European monitoring programs comprise one of the most comprehensive survey programs in the world, analysing more than 75,000 food samples for over 600 different pesticides every year.

Grants and subsidies

EFSA regularly awards grants or subsidies for projects and activities that contribute to EFSA’s mission in the areas of data collection, preparatory work for scientific opinions, other scientific and technical assistance.

Scientific opinions

EFSA publishes more than 500 scientific opinions every year, that are used to inform policymakers and the public about risks (or the lack of them) associated with the food chain.

Food and drinks in the EU are safer and more traceable today than they were in the past. Scientific understanding is also improving thanks to public and private research.

  1. We have a set of globally recognized standards. The setting of standards is a difficult political negotiation. Food risks know no borders and it is fundamental to work closely with international bodies, building partnerships with the US, Japan, Australia, China and Africa. Cooperation is important to anticipate emerging risks.
  2. The EU’s approach to food safety has improved global health. Such is the case of Salmonella, a bacteria that causes thousands of contaminations in Europe every year. The coordinated actions were taken by the EU, including monitoring programs and awareness-raising on food hygiene has resulted in a great reduction of cases of Salmonella. Take pesticides as another example.

As a consumer, you should know that if you eat an apple in Malta or in Parma, that apple is equally safe, since the maximum level of pesticide residues allowed on apples is the same. EFSA recently published its yearly report on the levels of pesticides residues in food within the EU.

The latest figures say that about 95% of food samples are free of pesticide residues or contain traces below legally permitted levels. The risk for the consumers is very low.

  1. Some crises and threats have been handled, thanks to attention from concerned citizens and associations, but also thanks to serious efforts to examine the problems by the competent authorities.

EFSA was indeed established in 2002 after a series of food crises in the late 1990s such as the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), an event that reduced consumer confidence.

Frauds have been spotted and handled. Such was the case of the horsemeat scandal and the more recent fipronil-contamination of eggs.

Recent interests and upcoming challenges

The EU and EFSA are currently engaging in three key activities:

  1. Gather scientific opinion on the consumption of dietary sugars. Sweden and four other EU member states asked EFSA to look into this issue, to guide states to establish recommendations for the consumption of dietary sugars and to plan dietary guidelines.

Together with research on EDC, this may tackle the obesity issue.

  1. Assess the risks posed by residues of multiple pesticides in food. The first results of two pilot assessments – one considering chronic effects on the thyroid system and the other acute effects on the nervous system – were published in April 2020 thanks to a collaboration between EFSA and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health & Environment.
  2. Climate changes may affect not only food security but also food and feed safety. The increase of temperatures may have consequences such as food crops producing mycotoxins, harmful substances that affect human and animal health (e.g. gastrointestinal and kidney disorders, changes in immune response and even cancer), changes in the use of pesticide and fertilizer due to the spread of new pests and reduced nutrients in the soil.

Changing climate could also affect the use of veterinary drugs, potentially contributing to antibiotic resistance.

We encourage you to register and follow the EitFood course on a related subject, that you can find on:

/courses/food-and-nutrition Food and nutrition, the truth behind the headlines.

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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