Story | 06/27/2024 11:09:35 | 4 min Read time

True or false: Bio-based packaging is not food-safe

The answer: It depends. There are some simple rules of thumb for good food packaging, regardless of the material.

Primarily, food packaging needs to provide adequate protection for the food it contains. Coffee, for example, must be safeguarded not only against contaminants but also oxygen so it will maintain its freshness.

Plastic has many excellent features, which is why it has long been a dominant material in food packaging. Non-fossil alternatives, such as barrier papers, need to live up to these standards. Bio-based plastic made of wood-based bionaphtha is another good example of an alternative. It has same characteristics as fossil-based plastic, as it is chemically identical, but lower greenhouse emissions.

Secondly, food safety means that the material is safe for direct contact with food. It cannot contain or transfer any chemical or organic contaminants. Each type of material has specific criteria and regulations that the packaging must fulfil.

In addition to regulation from EU (BfR) and USA (FDA), there might also be local requirements in place. Regardless of the material, all food packaging must meet relevant food safety standards.

Coffee, for example, must be safeguarded not only against contaminants but also oxygen so it will maintain its freshness.

How is food safety guaranteed in bio-based packaging?

Just like any other packaging material. Bio-based packaging is required to meet the same requirements and follow the same regulations as any food safe packaging. In order to ensure food safety, it is recommended to work with certified and reputable partners.

UPM rigorously tests and monitors its packaging materials to ensure they meet food-safety requirements. Fiber-based materials like paper undergo testing for metals, biocides, toxins and microbes.

For plastic, including bio-based plastics, the testing list is even longer as the production of plastic often involves phthalates and softeners. Additionally, all raw materials used must meet the same stringent requirements.

Bio-based packaging is required to meet the same requirements and follow the same regulations as any food safe packaging.

Does bio-based packaging compromise the shelf life of food products?

When selecting packaging materials, it’s important to choose the ones that are fit for the purpose. Barrier paper with minimal coating, for example, may be optimal for dry food like cake mix powder but wouldn’t serve well for oily foods. Various finishes and coatings allow paper packages to be used for foods that require specific barrier qualities.

Packages made with wood-based bionaphtha perform exactly as well as conventional plastic; the bio-based origin doesn’t impact the performance of the polymers.

When selecting packaging materials, it’s important to choose the ones that are fit for the purpose.

Is all bio-based packaging kosher and halal?

Contrary to what many may think, not all renewable and bio-based packaging on the market is plant-based. For example, gelatine (protein made from animal collagen) may be used to make biodegradable or even edible films. 

Additionally, other animal-originated biopolymers or animal fat can be used in the production of certain packages. This means that all bio-based packages do not necessarily meet the requirements for kosher or halal dietary rules.

A major portion of the packaging solutions that UPM provides are based on wood, so no animal-based ingredients are involved in the process.

All bio-based packages do not necessarily meet the requirements for kosher or halal dietary rules.
 

These UPM experts were interviewed for the story: Leena Kunnas, David McCann, Gerd Unkelbach, Eliisa Laurikainen

 

*The term bio-based is used here for all materials that are produced using substances derived from living organisms such as plants (source: Collins Dictionary). Many bio-based or bio-attributed plastics are chemically identical to fossil-based plastic and are not, for example, biodegradable.

 
 
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