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What are Food Contact Materials?

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  • Written By: Sarah Woody
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Food contact materials are materials that will touch food at some point during packaging, processing, distribution, or preparation. These can include containers and kitchen equipment or housewares — from whatever is on the factory production line to whatever may be in the home. The various types of food contact materials include glass, paper, plastic, coatings, and other materials. Sometimes, food products will have more than one layer of food contact materials, such as a glass jar containing pickles with a paper label on the outside of the jar and a metal lid on the top of the jar. Often, food products will come in contact with more than one food contact material, including the packaging the food came in as well as kitchen utensils, glasses, or plates.

Many countries regulate food contact materials. During the interaction of food contact materials with food, molecules or chemicals can migrate, which could contaminate the food. The regulations are in place for food safety and because chemical migration of food contact materials to the food could change the quality of the food or cause harm to those who eat the food.

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In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers food contact materials to be indirect food additives, which are not meant to be directly added to the food. The FDA does not regulate kitchen utensils or housewares. Also considered by the FDA are two other food additives: direct food additives, which are things added directly to the food, and secondary direct food additives, which are things added to food to treat the food. Direct food additives and secondary direct food additives have a purpose, such as to provide nutrition, maintain quality or freshness, help in preparation, or make the food taste or look better.

There are many laws, regulations, and considerations when it comes to food contact materials. Many of these have to do with chemistry and biology in regards to the materials being used and the food the materials will come in contact with. Food contact materials should not be dangerous to humans. There are many methods of measurement, such as measuring how much chemical migration has occurred, and studies that have been conducted to ensure food contact materials are safe.

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