How to make print less harmful - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The Sunday Column looks at how to reduce contamination, and make your life, safe

03 Aug 2018 | By Noel D'Cunha

How do you define food safety? For some stakeholders, it means quality assurance, safety and compliance, while for some it simply means ensuring a product that goes to the users is safe. 

Take, for example, food packaging. The interaction between food and printed packaging can arise because of permeation, migration, and invisible set-off. Potential migrants are plasticisers from plastics or inks, monomers from plastics or coatings, solvents, washes and cleaning chemicals, oils and greases, low molecular weight components from substrates or adhesives etc, low molecular ink additives (e.g. photoinitiators), and hydrocarbon distillates or mineral oils from conventional inks.

Inks for packaging

At a recent International Packaging Conclave held on the sidelines of PackPlus 2018, Kumar Anil, advisor, standards, FSSAI, announced that new regulations on printing ink and food packaging material will be in place by July 2019. “Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is working on the regulations, and it would take another year-and-a-half for the process to be complete.”

For an ink manufacturer’s point of view, migration is the biggest concern when it comes to food safety. “Not really,” says Niklas Olsson, global brand manager narrow web at Flint Group when PrintWeek India met him during the Gallus Innovation Days. “Migration issues are not a major concern for an ink manufacturer. Food-compliant ink technology that addresses these issues are widely available - but there is still a big need to further inform the industry about the use of these technologies.”

Ink major Siegwerk India emphasised on avoiding the risk of including toluene in the package printing process, while addressing journalists at a media conference in Mumbai on 20 July 2018.

Ashish Pradhan, chief executive officer, Siegwerk India said “In November 2017, Siegwerk India took a voluntary decision to go 100% toluene free and the Siegwerk Bhiwadi site is now toluene-free and does not use toluene in its manufacturing processes. To ensure compliance and rule out any possibility of cross-contamination, Siegwerk India has established adequate controls to guarantee the inks delivered to customers are toluene free.”

According to FSSAI, it is now in the process of drafting a regulation, which will bring printing inks for food under the scope of the regulatory framework for food packaging. This until now was not regulated.

The regulation will refer to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) standards for printing inks for food packaging, where there is a list of chemicals which should not be used in printing inks. This new regulation will be beneficial for many, from brand owners to printers to consumers, and even from the regulatory point of view.

Meanwhile, BIS has recommended a ban on the use of toluene in inks used in food packaging. However, major ink companies have claimed that their inks are free of lead, toluene or ketone, and that such declarations are made on the ink cans or containers.

Vimal Mehra of Sakata Inx, says, there certainly are many chemicals that must not be used. “The UN says that warnings on consumer products are a decision each country needs to take independently.” Mehra however, adds, disposal mode warnings are important, especially where rhodamine pigments, chlorine-based wastes and heavy metals are concerned.

Newsprint inks
Following the ban on plastic bags, one sees a proliferation of old newspaper being used for packaging food and other edible items.

“The plastic ban has provided tremendous opportunity for paper and paperboard usage, but I hope old newspapers are not used for food packaging at the kirana shops or other shops as this would reinforce the carcinogenic issues for humans,” BS Kampani, an ink specialist had said, when PrintWeek India sought his reaction on the plastic ban.

According to Reynold D'Souza, general manager for R&D at Sakata Inx India, there is considerable and sufficient human epidemiological data to support the case of cancer in multiple forms among people in the newsprint industry in the past. In the developed countries, 50 years ago, the studies were relevant then but not anymore. In India, the older statistics are still relevant but there are not many publicly disclosed studies of workers in the ink and printing industry.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recently, regularly and repeatedly pointed out that newsprint contains toxic chemicals. “‘Pointing out the possibility of food contamination from printing ink or other harmful carcinogenic chemicals, the central food regulator has issued an advisory suggesting the restricted use of newspapers and cardboard boxes for packaging food items, including snacks,” D’Souza says.

He adds, “The FSSAI also said that newspaper should not be used to wrap, cover and serve food or to absorb excess oil from fried food. There is an urgent need to discourage use of newspapers as packaging material by creating awareness among businesses, especially unorganised food business operators, and consumers on its harmful effects.”

D’Zouza further quotes a study which states that recycled newspapers still contain PolyAromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) in the paper stock and that the PAH is entering the food chain through recycled newsprint by way of cartons and other paperboard material.

So, what are the carcinogenic ingredients present in news ink and can they be substituted?

Kampani says the inks used in the newspaper have petroleum oil distillates, these, when transferred to the foodstuff, can pose long-term health problems to the individuals.

D’Souza explains it’s the key carcinogenic ingredient which is the bottoms fraction of petroleum distillation. “It is an important product for the petroleum industry to dispose off. This is called ‘Distillate Aromatic extract (or Aromatic Extender Oil) and has a unique Chemical Abstracts.” This material is classified under the Global Harmonized System Classification, which the whole world follows and India has ‘committed’ to follow this.”

The material is innocuous enough in terms of acute effects. The aromatic content will defat the skin on prolonged exposure. The body quickly reacts to the material and the immune system will tend to reject it. “So even though the material is not classified as allergic, the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels will rise, a sign that the body believes itself under attack. The level of the material, in say black ink, can be in excess of 50%,” says D’Souza.

A key question is: why does a simple chemical cause so many problems to living systems? D’Souza says, “The simple answer is that the body looks to dispose of the material and the best way to do so is to eliminate it via the glycoside or similar route. But since the body cannot find any functional group it brings in powerful chemistry converting the molecule to the arene oxide and then is ready to dispose of the molecule.”

As for the PAHs, they are proven carcinogens. They are present in news ink in India. “Most countries have restricted PAH in news ink about 50 years ago. So export viability of news ink is not high from India.”

Newsprint recycling
Newsprint industry is facing problems of competition with electronic media and so is likely to resist any EHS initiative. However, for true media freedom, it is necessary to make the general public aware of the situation. There is sufficient statistical evidence of carcinogenicity of the type of newsprint used in India from IARC-the global body for assessing cancer, to which India is also a member.

D’Souza says, “Newsprint is recycled. The PAH content will tend to remain partly with the pulp, though to some degree will contaminate water streams also. Though it will be difficult to eliminate PAH totally, advanced oxidation processes can be considered to alleviate the situation during newsprint recycle.”

It is, therefore, important to prevent newsprint being used to pack food especially oily and warm food. It is important to prevent news pulp being recycled into food packing applications without due quality checks. “An alternative is to ensure by a standard that news ink is not carcinogenic,” said D’Souza.

This is what both, FSSAI and BIS are working on. Hopefully, the new regulations on printing ink for food packaging material will be in place by July 2019.