The processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure better safety of their food products and the packaging. Health concerns about packaging chemicals, such asphthalates, have raised consumer awareness of about the risks posed by materials that may come into contact with the food they buy.
The reaction to Nestlé's packaging problem has sparked Netherlands-based IGM Resins to publish a summary of toxicological data on its Omnirad ITX, Omnipol TX and Omnipol BP range of printing inks,which are used by food processors. The tests indicate that ITX does not harm human health.
Meanwhile, Philip Tod, the commission's spokesperson for health and consumer protection, said the withdrawal of the contaminated batch was carried out in line with EU law.
"This substance is not regulated by EU law but it is not authorised to be present (in food)," he is quoted as stating in a press release by Nestlé.
Earlier this week Nestlé announced a recall of about two million litres of its Nidina and Latte Mio brands of baby milk in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. This after Italy seized million of litres of the company's milk on Tuesday over concerns about ITX contamination.
Italy had originally informed the European Commission rapid alert system about the problem in September that traces of ITX had been found in some of the cartons of milk. Tetra Pak, the container'smaker, removed ITX from the cartons in October.
Nestlé says a broad scientific consensus supports its conviction that ITX does not pose a health hazard. Due to Italy's call for an inquiry into the chemical, the European Commission has asked theEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to carry out tests on the chemical. EFSA says the preliminary results of the testing would be be ready in about two weeks and the final report by next March.
"This is a packaging issue not a food safety issue," Nestlé spokesperson François-Xavier Perroud told FoodProductionDaily.com yesterday. in explaining the recall decision. "Therewas no danger to health from drinking the milk."
ITX is used in the curing process during ultraviolet printing processes.
Nestlé has been using the same container from Tetra Pak for the milk for the past 10 years. Perroud said it was the first time the problem had been noticed.
The problem occurred during what he called a "routine" test for other substances by an Italian laboratory. The laboratory found the traces of ITX in the milk products and regulators toldNestlé about the problem.
Meanwhile IGM Resins, which provides printing ink to food companies containing ITX says its toxicological tests support the opinion that the chemcial is not toxic.
IGM says EU legislation due to come into force setting migration limits of substances for multi-layer food packaging led it to conduct the studies. The new directive sets migration limits of 10 pbbfor non-evaluated substances and 50 pbb for substances for which tests had been conducted and were shown to be safe.
ITX was subsequently discovered to migrate from the carton to any fatty products like milk.
In a statement Tetra Pak said it switched its carton printing processes in October once it discovered the problem.
"This decision was taken as a precautionary measure and in the absence of any scientific evidence indicating a health risk," Tetra Pak stated.
ITX is not prohibited for use in food packaging by the EU, Tetra Pax stated. It added that scientific research indicates that the migration of ITX has "no known health effects".
The Italian news agency ANSA said a first seizure of two million litres of milk took place in Italy on 9 November. A subsequent laboratory analysis showed that all products with an expiry date ofSeptember 2006 were contaminated and the recall was expanded.
In a 24 November 2004 patent application in the US, Sun Chemical noted: "In recent years, thioxanthone derivatives, particularly isopropylthioxanthone (ITX) and diethylthioxanthone, havebeen extensively used in UV curable printing ink applications. However, these are not entirely satisfactory because, following curing, unreacted thioxanthone derivatives of this type have a tendencyto migrate from printing inks into, for example, packaged foodstuffs."
Nestlé ran into difficulties with Italian regulators earlier in October. Italy's antitrust authority fined seven producers of baby formula, including Nestlé, a total of €9.7 million for price fixing.