mercredi 29 juin 2011

Recycled Cardboard and Food Safety: A Functional Barrier to the Rescue!

I share with you my paper published in the last issue of The Cascadeur, The Cascades Quartely Employees journal.

A recent Swiss study has shown that the recycled cardboard used to make cereal boxes could harm the health of consumers.

Migration of Mineral Oils

Swiss researchers from the Food Safety Laboratory in Zurich discovered that the recycled paper used to make cardboard boxes contained mineral oils that could seep through the packaging into the food. According to the study published in Packaging and Technology Science, pasta and rice packaging could run the same risk.

It seems that the mineral oils actually come from newsprint and other printed materials that are used as raw materials. According to toxicologists, a persistent inflammation of certain internal organs could occur. In addition, exposure to mineral oils increases the risk of cancer.

Cereal manufacturers have already started to make changes to their product packaging. The British Jordans Group thus made the radical decision to get rid of all recycled cardboard in its packaging. Kellogg’s and Weetabix are trying instead to limit the mineral oil levels by making the cardboard from other materials. The Swiss food giant Nestlé believes that the type of fibres selected will reduce the level of mineral oils in its packaging.

What could prevent this migration?

Concerned with this risk haunting the agrifood industry, the European Confederation of the Pulp, Paper and Cardboard Industry is considering measures to implement. All possible solutions, however, raise questions:
  1. Using a barrier bag against mineral oils. However, the right barrier must be found to reduce or prevent migration.
  2. Using more virgin fibres. > Dilution is not a solution; migration may still occur.
  3. Improving sorting and ensuring that no newsprint is present in the cardboard used for food packaging. > This option could considerably reduce the risks of migration. However, it places certain practical constraints on sorting and collection.
  4. Replacing the inks used for printing newspapers. > This option would solve the problem right at the source. However, it is highly unlikely in an industry that is already weakened by competition with electronic and other digital media.
Moreover, all these proposals mean cost increases for cardboard and/or major changes to processes.

Functional Barrier: Security and Durability

At SPG (Cascades Specialty Products Group), four plants are specialized in applying the functional barriers on cardboard. Our Conversion, Tacoma and Birmingham plants apply different polymers/resins on paper (extrusion coating/lamination) and our Converdis plant uses water-based coatings.

Extrusion coating and water-based coating seem to be the most promising options. However, the challenges are still considerable, since we have to develop an innovative functional barrier that would prevent migration of mineral oils.

This barrier would have two benefits in that it would ensure food safety and eco-friendly packaging. This barrier would not only stop the migration of mineral oils, but would also protect the product during transportation, thus preventing any cross-contamination.

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