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Far East plastics still a problem for formaldehyde: FSA

By Stephen Daniells , 29-Aug-2008

The migration of formaldehyde into foods from food contact materials manufactured in the Far East may still be a problem, according to a new FSA survey.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) tested 50 samples of food contact material from the Far East, and found that eight exceeded EC norms.

“The results of this survey suggest that there may still continue to be a problem with some imports into the EU of melamine-ware from the Far East,” stated the agency.

Migration of formaldehyde from melamine-ware plastics to the foods they come into contact with poses a serious food safety issue, and the FSA are keen to ensure migration levels remain below the EC’s total specific migration limit (SML).

The ongoing survey, started in 2004, demonstrates a commitment to future food safety, and the discovery that eight samples had formaldehyde levels “clearly above” the legal limit, emphasizes the necessity of on-going testing.

The agency tested 50 samples to ascertain formaldehyde and hexamethylenetetramine (HMTA) levels in food contact materials and articles, targeted on samples from the Far East.

While 43 samples showed migration, the levels were well below the SML of 15 mg per kg. However, eight samples had formaldehyde levels between six and 65 times the SML, said the agency.

“The Agency took immediate action, working with local enforcement officers and suppliers, to ensure that non-compliant goods were withdrawn from the market. The European Commission and other EU Member States were also informed so that they could take any necessary action,” it stated.

Mission possible?

“In 2007, as a result of the high level of illegal Far East samples that had been found on the EC market, the EC Food and Veterinary Office conducted a Mission to China to assess the official control systems in place on food contact materials for export into the European Union to prevent migration of their constituents into food,” explained the agency. “Formaldehyde migration from melamine-ware was one of the topics under investigation.”

Despite these positive moves, the results of the ongoing survey suggest that not all the holes have been plugged.

A follow-up Mission is reportedly planned for November this year.

Eyes looking East

China has been seen to be pro-active in ensuring the safety of its food and food-related products. The country's Food Hygiene Law and the Criminal Law forbids the use of chemical ingredients or harmful substances in food production, about 75 per cent of the one million processors spread across the country are estimated to be small, private operations.

Since a nationwide operation was launched in December 2006, quality inspectors have seized contaminated or substandard foodstuffs with an estimated value of 200 million yuan (€20 million), according to figurers released last year.

Confiscation of products and site plant closure are the least of the worries for violators whose products are found to have killed or serious injury because those found guilty face sentences of at least 10 years in jail or the death penalty.

Problems with Chinese exports have been subject to intense scrutiny since the discovery of the banned chemical, melamine, is shipments of feed and pet food sent to the US. The contaminated products were linked to the deaths of a number of animals.

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