Q&A: Paper-based packaging and food safety

SN Venkataraman, divisional head - marketing at ITC Paperboards and Speciality Papers Division talks about handling and converting food-grade paper and paperboard

24 Aug 2018 | By WhatPackaging? Team

SN Venkataraman, divisional head - marketing at ITC Paperboards and Speciality Papers Division

What is your view regarding the food safety and packaging regulations in India?
The demand in the Indian food retail sector is driven by convenience, variety, quality, changing consumption patterns and demographics. The sector is fragmented and largely unorganised with only 5% sold through modern retail formats. In the past food safety standards were enforced by laws like PFA, ISI Mark, Agmark standard but there has been a distinct shift towards voluntary certification standards. However, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) establishes a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards. The FSSAI regulations for packaging have begun with specifying the norms for direct food contact packaging especially the ban on using newspapers and recycled fibre-based boards. We expect forthcoming regulations to be in line with the international standards. Awareness creation and implementation would be the key.

Global regulations for food-grade packaging

  • The European Union’s :
    • Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.
    • Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
    • Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS)
  • The US FDA’s :
    • CFR 21, §176.170: Components of paper and paperboard in contact with aqueous and fatty food
    • CFR 21, §176.180: Components of paper and paperboard in contact with dry food
  • Germany’s BfR Recommendation XXXVI, Paper and board (2009) –for raw materials permitted in the manufacture of paper/paperboard and their prescribed limits.


What is food-grade paper and board for packaging?
The traditional definition of food-grade paper and board for packaging is one, which is suitable for food contact, free from contaminants and does not alter the organoleptic properties of the food that it packs. The emergence of modern trade and regulations covering information, usage, disposal and sustainability place additional demands on the substrate and printing like the type of fibers, type of barrier, inks that indicate shelf life, ease of recycling etc.

How does ITC PSPD make food-grade paper and paperboard?
At ITC PSPD paperboards for food packaging is carefully designed keeping the end user in mind. First, only virgin fibres from sustainably managed plantations are used or if recycled fibres are used then the board is coated with a food compatible barrier. Secondly, the bleaching is elemental chlorine free and keeps the board free from dioxins and furans. And finally, the process also ensures that there is no presence of any heavy metals.

The paperboard machine itself is in a protected environment with standard screens and air curtains. Positive pressure and specially designed lamps keep insects out. Web inspection systems continuously scan both the surfaces of the board for any dirt or specs. Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs), often used to make the paper brighter, are eliminated in food-grade boards. Even the lubricants used are of food-grade. Packing of reels and bulk pallets are automatic and untouched by human hands. Two lines at our Bhadrachalam Unit are BRC certified for direct food contact packaging. Our unit at Bollaram, which makes paperboards for disposables and frozen foods packaging, is BRC Grade AA certified which is the highest level of certification.

What are the pitfalls to be avoided while converting food-grade paperboard into cartons or cups?
The conversion from paper or paperboard to final form must follow some Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines. The BRC Global Standard checklist is a good place to begin with. We have created an extract of this and assist converters in implementing these practices. It helps in determining the hygiene category such as high or low risk and then proceed with corrective actions. The converters who conform to these become a part of our Indobev Champions Network. One of the key parameters for converting packaging for food contact applications is the type of ink that is used – vegetable oil-based inks are used in offset printing and in the gravure process, care is taken to eliminate any residual smell of the solvent. If recycled fibre-based boards are used then a suitable barrier to mineral oil migration has to be imparted to the board. The print is protected with aqueous coatings and UV varnish is usually avoided due to its odour.

Have you proactively taken initiatives to help brand and packaging converters deliver safe packaging for their customers?
Yes, we have done this quite often, to give you a few examples – we have worked closely with MNCs and designed the boards especially for aseptic packaging. In the quick service restaurants sector, we have developed papers for wraps that are oil and grease resistant. We foresaw the changing regulatory landscape for single-use plastics and have created a paperboard-based solution for a large pan-Indian brand for their takeaways. In the disposables segment, we were the first to introduce bio-based barrier coated paperboards that will completely biodegrade in a composting atmosphere

Which products of ITC PSPD are designed for food and beverage packaging?
Our boards go for various F&B applications, such as cup-stock, deep freeze packaging, takeaway bowls, etc. To accommodate the diverse requirements, we designed a diverse range of food-grade papers and boards, namely Cyber XLPac, Indobev, Indobarr, Cyber Propac, Wrapwell, Omegabev, Omegabarr and the recently developed Indobowl.