Food hygiene - what does 'safe' mean?

9th of July 2014
Food hygiene - what does 'safe' mean?

Wipers, chemicals, cloths and brushes – all have to be ‘food safe’ before they can be used in food preparation areas. But how far do they need to differ from traditional products? Ann
Laffeaty finds out.

‘Food-safe’ products have become big business in today’s catering kitchens and food processing plants. Wipers, chemicals, cloths and brushes – all of them need to be designated suitable for use in an area where food is being prepared to avoid the risk of foodstuffs becoming contaminated or tainted.

But what makes these products food-safe, and what does the certification process actually involve? Does a complex testing procedure need to be carried out before such products are certified, or is it simply a question of ensuring that certain elements such as perfumes and colourings have been left out?

The answer is that it all depends on the product in question – and it also depends on how close that product is likely to come into contact with food. And in some cases it even depends on the type of food with which it will come into contact. So, no simple answer then.

PGI Nonwoven’s director of product marketing James Taylor concurs that it can be relatively complex to ensure a product is food-safe. The company offers a range of food-safe non-woven wipes under the Chicopee brand.

“Developing a food-safe non-woven involves the selection of suitable fibres that offer traceability,” he said. “The chemicals used in the manufacturing process also need to be safe to use. In fact the whole manufacturing process needs to be food-safe.  For example, when printing a logo you need to use food-safe inks, and with coloured products you have to use a dye that will not run off the product and contaminate the food.”

According to Taylor a food-safe product may not look or feel any different from a regular non-woven, but a non food-safe product could compromise the health of the consumer. He says food-safe non-wovens need to hold either an ISEGA Food Contact Cleared (FCC) certificate or a Centexbel Antibacterial certificate. PGI uses several external laboratories for food-safe testing.

“We also have a dedicated team of internal product developers with an understanding of what is required to gain certification,” said Taylor. “They need to consider how we achieve this without sacrificing product quality.”

He adds that external certification is not required for FCC and that a product can be self-certified. “You simply need to show that you have the correct control processes and that you can demonstrate traceability,” he said. “This may then be followed up and checked by the authorising bodies. Though we at PGI do gain external certification as we believe the market is more reassured by this.”

Many factors

Metsä Tissue UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick agrees that a combination of factors are required to make a product food-safe. “The component materials of a food-safe product need to have been checked to the necessary standards - and the production process must not add anything or compromise that standard,” he said.

The company offers a range of food-safe products including hand towels, wiping rolls and wipers and these paper products are covered by two different European directives according to Dewick.
“Food-safe paper products can be differentiated by those that come into direct contact with food and those that do not,” he said. “EC 1935/2004 covers direct food contact products such as napkins and baking paper, while the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC covers non-food contact paper items such as hand towels and cleaning cloths.

“However as a rule, we at Metsä use the same raw materials and additives for food contact and non-food contact papers.”

He adds there are two sub-categories for food-safe products – those that are suitable for contact with dry, non-fatty foods and those that are suitable for contact with dry, moist and fatty foods. “This is the highest level of food safety.”

In order to ensure compliance, the company obtains clearance declarations from its suppliers as well as the manufacturers of any raw and auxiliary materials used to make Metsä tissue products. “These materials are then checked again by independent institutes or accredited laboratories,” said Dewick.

Besides offering food-safe wipers and hand towels, Metsä even offers food-safe toilet rolls. “The reasons behind food-safe hand towels and wiping rolls are obvious – but why might you want food-safe toilet rolls?” he said. “Firstly it is because people in food environments will touch the product and may then inadvertently carry a trace of it back to the food preparation area. In a worst case scenario they may have had no hand towels and might have used toilet tissue to wipe their hands instead – or perhaps they will use it for blowing their nose. So in the unlikely event toilet tissue finds its way into a kitchen environment, it should be food-safe.”

Diversey also offers a complete range of food-safe products according to global marketing director Irina Klemps. These include cloths, brushes and disinfection agents as well as limescale removers, all-purpose cleaners and products for cleaning glass, ovens and grills.

“All our products that are either intended for - or could potentially be used on - food contact surfaces are investigated by our own toxicological department to be safe if they are used according to recommendations,” said Klemps. “Each product also has a Global Product Safety Clearance Report.”

Vileda Professional offers food films, foils and gloves that have been certified food-safe. The regulations concerning glove testing are particularly stringent because these products come into direct contact with food says product development manager Joerg Dunkel.

“You need to make sure gloves pass the migration test,” he said. “Products that simulate food are put into contact with the gloves and any migration – in terms of traces of substances released from the gloves - is then measured.  Only high quality gloves can be used with fatty foods because the rubber in gloves swells when it comes into contact with fat.”

Bio-Productions managing director Mike James says the key quality of a food-safe product is that it should be non-tainting. “It is a common sense thing,” he said. “There should be no trace of any chemical left behind on a surface on which food is to be prepared.

No perfume or fragrance

“That means that a chemical product shouldn’t contain a perfume or a fragrance. People have latched on to this idea of needing products to be ‘food-safe’, but as far as we are concerned there are no specific standards that you need to achieve with chemical products.”

Hagleitner creates food-safe products in its own laboratory. “We have more than 160 formulas and we develop them ourselves,” said head of product management Dr Georg Steiner. “We then test the products and implement quality controls, and afterwards we have them tested by independent institutes according to demands and regulations.”

He says the factors that make a product food-safe will depend entirely on the item in question. For example, Hagleitner’s soap and disinfection refills come in a vacuum-sealed bag which means that no air can contaminate them, according to Steiner. “In the food industry, too, there is often splash water present so all our dispensers are splash-water resistant and protected,” he adds. “But in general our main focus when developing products for food use is that they should be safe for the user.”

Steiner concludes that in most cases, food-safe products are very different to their non food-safe counterparts. “We have to think about food safety right at the beginning of product development - it is not simply a case of adapting the formula or leaving something out,” he explains.


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