European consumers may soon be buying food that is kept fresh by its wrapper following the European Commission’s (EC) decision to revise food-packaging regulations.
Among the proposed changes is a more modern approach to the principle that packaging materials should not interact with the food they contain. This will allow the introduction into the EU of ‘active’ and ‘intelligent’ packaging that could prolong shelf life or monitor and display information about the freshness of food.
The proposal will also set up traceability requirements so that materials coming into contact with food are identified at all stages of production and distribution.
Recent technological developments have allowed the food industry to create ‘active’ packaging to prolong food quality and shelf life. Active packaging interacts with food to reduce oxygen levels or add flavourings or preservatives. ‘Intelligent’ packaging can monitor the food and transmit information on its quality.
This type of packaging cannot be introduced into the EU because existing legislation states that food contact materials should not trigger any chemical reactions which might change the food’s taste, appearance, texture or smell or alter its chemical composition. This applies even if the changes are beneficial.
Fresh foods can produce gas or moisture inside the packaging as they age, encouraging microorganisms to grow. Oxygen can cause bread and pizza crusts to grow mould. It also causes vegetable oils to go rancid and makes other foods lose their flavour. Some types of active packaging contain oxygen scavengers that absorb the gasses food releases, cutting down the risk of food poisoning and helping the food keep its flavour for longer.
Intelligent packaging can change colour to let the customer know how fresh the food is and show if the food has been spoiled because of a change in temperature during storage or a leak in the packaging. Labelling will inform users about the nature of the packaging.
‘EU legislation has to keep pace with advances in food packaging technology,’ said David Byrne, the EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner. ‘Active and intelligent packaging should be allowed in Europe, provided it complies with the principles of EU food safety law.
‘This proposal also extends our ‘farm to fork’ approach to safety so that any materials clearly intended to come into contact with food can be identified and traced.’
The proposal will now be sent to the European Council and to the European Parliament for a first reading.