Food Toxicology Testing: Testing Contact Materials

Today, virtually all the food we consume comes packaged in one way or another. The result is the omnipresence of food contact materials. These materials offer many benefits when it comes to the preservation of food goods, including sustaining food quality for prolonged transit and storage periods; mitigating the risk of contamination; and limiting costly food wastage. However, one of the major drawbacks is that undesirable and toxic compounds can move into products from the packaging media and processing equipment, contaminating the product and causing food toxicology issues.

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This article explores the analysis of food toxicology with an emphasis on the influence of polymeric food contact materials, specifically packaging.

Types of Polymer Food Contact Materials

Plastic packaging creates recurrent safety issues due to the sheer variety of substances available for plastic manufacturing. These include but are not limited to polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene, and ethylene-vinyl acetate. Despite posing food toxicology concerns, most packaging and containers used for food items are produced using these polymers.

Typically, these polymer macromolecules have a low risk of migration due to their comparatively high molecular weights (MW). However, there are numerous antioxidants, catalysts, oligomers, stabilizers, pigments, and other compounds that can bleed into food goods and jeopardize product quality and safety. In sub-par conditions, polymer chains can break down into monomers that are small enough to migrate into the food product, further posing a potential health risk to consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has legislated strict guidelines for controlling the transfer of chemicals and other toxic materials from plastic packaging into food goods. These regulations help curb the problems associated with food toxicology and limit health risks associated with otherwise beneficial materials. One of the principal technologies used to analyze the molecular weights of polymers is called gel permeation chromatography (GPC). This method allows for the determination of weight fraction below 1000 molecular weight. Molecules above the 1000 amu limit are usually considered of low toxicological significance. Therefore, GPC is crucial in the approach for testing the accelerated aging of food contact materials.

Case Study: Food Toxicology of Polyethylene Packaging

Polyethylene is made up of a linear chain of methylene repeat units, which is created via the polymerization of ethylene molecules with metal chloride or oxide catalysts. Dependent upon the degree of branching and the molecular weight distribution of the polymer, polyethylene may fall into one of many distinct categories. Generally, each category can be distinguished from the next based on molecular weight or density -these are key properties that considerably influence the mechanical performance of polymers in end-products.

Determining the molecular weight of polyethylene products via GPC can help facilitate the analysis of polymers intended for use in food packaging as well as other end-products. Samples are dissolved in an appropriate trichlorobenzene (TCB) solution with stabilizers at increased temperatures, which are then pumped into the microporous stationary phase of a GPC column and examined as a function of retention time. Subsequently, the resultant chromatogram can then be used in identifying the weight fraction of species below 1000 molecular weight which can potentially be toxic. Further information on this study can be found here - Case Study on Food Contact Polymers.

Food Toxicology Analysis with Jordi Labs

Determining the molecular weight of the low molecular weight species accurately in a polymer can be a complicated process. This could lead to mistaking the issue of the true weight fraction below 1000 and therefore the toxicology of the low molecular weight components in food contact materials.

Jordi Labs has been conducting GPC studies for nearly 40 years, establishing expert insight and specializing in GPC analysis while acquiring comprehensive experience in the characterization of the low molecular weight fraction of polymer systems. Therefore, GPC studies conducted by Jordi Labs can identify the low molecular weight fraction (<1000 amu) along with the average molecular weight with great reliability. This produces the data necessary for precise toxicological analysis and offers a solid foundation for further quantitative investigations of individual low molecular weight components. For additional information contact Jordi Labs directly.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Jordi Labs.

For more information on this source, please visit Jordi Labs.


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