The 21st century mega trend that all consumer behaviour agrees on is the one of nutrition. The new age consumer has become increasingly aware and concerned about what he/she consumes – its nutrition value, quality and source of ingredients, etc. This trend supports the overall heightened awareness on personal health where each individual is now taking ownership for his/her own health and decisions pertaining to it. The corona virus pandemic has acutely sharpened this focus – we are all very careful about personal hygiene and food and nutrition that will help us build our immune system.
With this background, it is easy to imagine that consumers today would be keen to know if the food that they consume is free from any form of contamination. Packaged food, forms a large part of all the food that is consumed and hence, it is logical that consumers would want to know how safe is the package and the food that it is expected to protect. This brings us to an extremely important point on the inherent safety profile of the package and its impact on the food.
Any package is essentially an industrial product – whether it is a carton or a flexible pouch. The construction of this package comprises materials that are produced on a mass scale and are organic and inorganic in nature. This opens the package to scrutiny on three fronts – physical integrity, chemical safety (since a lot of chemicals are used to make this package) and migration impact (do any of the materials used in the package transfer to the food it contains). Physical integrity has been studied in detail by the distribution and logistics experts and in collaboration with packaging engineers, they have come up with robust solutions. The topics of chemical safety and migration are complex and have been a debated in a great degree of detail throughout the world.
One component of the package that contributes to this complexity is printing inks. Nearly all packaging is printed, and this makes inks an integral part of the package construction. Inks formulation for food packaging must consider several aspects related to the suitability of its components if the ink is in direct contact with the food. In fact, it is nearly impossible to formulate perfectly safe inks that can be in direct contact with food. When it comes to indirect contact with food, we come to the subject of migration. Most of the commonly used packaging materials like plastic, paper, board are not functional barriers and some components of inks with sufficiently small molecular weight can migrate through these surfaces and contaminate the packaged food. Also, there is the possibility of migration through transfer during the printing process to consider.
In this respect, Indian regulators have taken a major step in the direction of stricter control of inks used in food packaging. IS 15495: 2020 is the latest regulation that brand owners, convertors and ink companies have to follow related to inks in food packaging. This regulation brings India closer to the food safety standards of Western Europe and the US. One of the major changes incorporated in this standard is the complete ban of using toluene as a solvent in these inks. Toluene is a CMR Cat2 chemical and has been banned in several countries for use in food packaging inks. Its complete ban is a step in the right direction to move to a regime of risk elimination. Siegwerk is the first ink company in India to ban toluene voluntarily in its operations since 2017.
In the future, there would be more topics that will come on the agenda of FSSAI and BIS. One such topic is mineral oil free inks used in sheetfed offset process. Mineral oil is a chemical that is detrimental to human health if it exceeds a certain level. Migration is a mechanism through which this could happen. Mineral oil presence could have several sources including inks. Siegwerk shall be again taking a stand in this matter by introducing mineral oil free inks in the very near future.
Siegwerk India takes its responsibility as a major supplier of inks for packaging – including food packaging – very seriously. We continuously upgrade our offerings by phasing out chemicals with undesirable toxicological profiles. We engage actively with regulators, brand owners and convertors to explore ways to make food packaging safer for consumers of this country.