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Metal packaging is the key to many food safety concerns. It's simply a strong, seamless and durable solution for storing food, blocking out contaminants. Aluminum and tinplate are among the most widely used materials in food packaging. Here are reasons why it's safe for metal to touch food. 

Standards for Safe Food Packaging

It's safe for certain types of metal to touch food, as stainless steel silverware is common at home and restaurants. The The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) each identify safe food contact materials (FCMs) for packaging. In addition to food packaging materials, FCMs can involve mobile containers, food processing equipment, kitchenware and tableware. 

Regulators update their opinions on FCMs periodically when new information calls for rethinking views. In February 2019, for example, EFSA updated its risk assessment of five phtalates, which are substances added to plastic for greater flexibility and longevity. Sometimes scientists will challenge risk assessments made by regulators. If they find through studies unsafe chemicals from food contact articles (FCAs) such as cups, are migrating from FCMs into food, they will present their arguments through journals. Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) publishes research for both the FDA and EFSA to review that identifies gaps in risk assessment and suggestions for improvement.

Certain chemicals used in packaging are linked to disease, which is why researchers are concerned about such chemicals migrating from packaging to food. Toxicity of various chemicals are still not completely understood. Aluminum appear to be safe for touching food. Most beverage cans no longer contain BPA, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute. Even though the FDA considers BPA to be safe, researchers found that trace amounts of this food contact chemical migrating into food could lead to health risks. So manufacturers made the shift on their own toward linings on aluminum cans made of acrylic and polyester.

Types of Safe Metals for Touching Food

Throughout the agricultural food chain from farm to fork, food comes into contact with a wide range of materials. In several criteria, certain metals are the most reliable material for food safety packaging, although the international symbol for "food safe" is a wine class and fork. Other safe food packaging materials include plastic, rubber, ceramics, paper and board. 

In order to qualify to use a food safe symbol, the packaging must meet several criteria, which are different for various nations. One of the general requirements is the material surface must be free of toxic contaminants. Nor may it develop into a source of toxins from consumer usage. The EU requires that food contact materials do not endanger human health.

Aluminum is a popular food safe choice material because of several qualities, such as temperature tolerance, light weight and corrosion resistance. It's also a cost-effective solution. As for cookware in the food industry, cast iron is approved by the FDA, but only for cooking. Iron without protective coating can degrade from corrosion and oxidation. Stainless steel (grades 304 and 316) is the most widespread steel alloy used across various industries due to its resistance to corrosion. 

Some metals, such as copper or brass, are avoided in the food industry due to potential for corrosion. But type of metal isn't the only factor affecting food safety, as a proper finish must be applied for easy cleaning and sanitary conditions. 

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Topics: Metal Packaging