Safe packaging is essential for food and other sensitive applications like pharma, hygiene, and cosmetics. Inks play a significant role in ensuring the safety of consumer products. There have been issues of packaging safety even with some of the global brands that were not limited to just recalling the product but also had a huge impact on their brand image. This has raised the bar on food safety, and government regulatory bodies like BIS and FSSAI are very active now. A recent example of eliminating toluene and revising packaging standard IS 15495 is one of the significant steps in that direction. Vinay Bhardwaj, vice-president, Flexible Packaging, Siegwerk India, shared his expert knowledge with FoodTechBiz on packaging inks and food safety, chemical contaminants, toluene-free inks, and the impact of toluene-based inks' ban on the food industry.
Please tell us about Siegwerk and how is it helping its customers to adopt new printing methods?
Siegwerk is a 180-year-old ink company and the world's second-largest packaging ink manufacturing company. We have our footprints across the globe, and we serve customers in more than 100 countries. Our global output of inks is more than 2,60,000 tons per year. In India, we have a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bhiwadi equipped with the most advanced R&D center. To be close to our customers, our blending centers are spread across India. Siegwerk was the first company to declare the facility toluene-free four years back, and till today, we remain the only toluene-free plant in India. You name a printing method, and we have a solution available. Our latest developments for flexo printing are in line with our commitments for sustainable packaging.
Packaging and packaging inks safety is becoming more and more critical and drawing end consumers' attention. Often there is confusion between food-safe inks and food-grade inks. Is there any difference between the two?
Food safe and food Grade inks are the terminologies that have been in use for decades. However, you would be surprised to know that no specifications existed earlier to demarcate the difference between Food Grade and Food Safe inks. Hence, it was left to the interpretation of the industry. It is only recently, in 2019, that the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), for the first time, described the word "Food Grade", which is now the legal definition.
By excluding a solvent like Toluene, Ketone, mineral oils, etc., one cannot assume and be assured that the inks are safe. Is that true? Please explain.
Yes, that' true. In the Indian market, terminologies like Toluene -Free inks, Mineral oil-free inks are used indiscriminately, and these are highly misleading. One must understand that substituting one or two solvents from an ink formulation doesn't make the inks safe. The ink consists of several chemicals. Unless an ink manufacturer screens all raw materials through the pre-defined screening protocols, it isn't easy to assure that the ink can be considered a Food Grade Ink.
Let's use the most common example to understand this marketing gimmick. Let us assume you procure toluene-free ink from an ink manufacturer. In such a case, you only have the assurance that the ink doesn't contain toluene as the solvent. However, this doesn't give you any assurance that the ink doesn't include other solvents like benzene, monochlorobenzene (regulated under IS 15495), heavy metals, formaldehyde (regulated by few brand owners), CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction) and other such category chemicals (regulated by self-commitment from ink manufacturer). Hence, ink manufacturers must provide conformance for the supplied packaging inks through a systematic approach and transparent communication.
We want to emphasize that as of now, the packaging standard IS 15495 has only toluene on the negative list among the substances in the context. Statement of Composition is a key document for any ink manufacturing company, and all brand owners as well convertors must insist for the same. Declaration on Statement of Composition (SOC) will provide you with the assurance that the ink manufacturer has followed good practices to provide you safe inks.
The chemical contaminants from the packaging inks can get migrated to the foodstuff. Would you please tell us about the different types of migrations that could occur in food?
Migration can be described as a transfer of chemical contaminants from the food packaging material to the food, thereby making it unsafe. Migrants are substances that move from a printed layer into the packed food due to their chemical characteristics and molecular size. The three different types of migration include Diffusion Migration, Set-off Migration, and Gas-phase Migration.
The toluene-based inks in India are popular because they are cheaper and more convenient than other ink systems. Whereas the other alternatives are available at a higher cost. How will this ban affect thousands of printers in India - from small print shops to large converters - as they will have to switch to new ink and solvent systems?
You have to look at the larger picture of safety for consumers. These dangers are not only immediate but also there for future generations. While it is important to keep costs in mind, we have to realize that this is a small cost one has to pay for a safe world. We all know toluene is a very cheap product that comes at a cheap cost and the alternate solvents are costlier. However, these additional costs come with more benefits. Siegwerk is committed to champion the cause of food safety, and to support the same, we go to the extent of helping SMEs with our know-how to develop toluene-free inks easily. We have been conducting various webinars as well training sessions with all the stakeholders. We welcome anyone to reach out to us for any queries not only related to just Toluene free ink development but also any other issue related to packaging or ink safety.
What are the requirements across supply chain stakeholders related to printing ink for food packaging, including brand owners?
Packaging Safety can only be ensured through an integrated approach. All stakeholders in the packaging supply chain need to be transparent and collaborate to ensure a safe packaging material. Brand owners have the highest responsibility as they have to align the entire packaging supply chain to deliver safe packaging material. Ink manufacturers, Substrate manufacturers, Adhesive manufacturers are all dealing with chemicals. Hence, they need guidance from the Brand owners on the importance of packaging safety and interpretation of regulations.
Transparency is the key to ensuring packaging safety. Brand owners should transparently and precisely explain their food safety and regulatory requirements, while other stakeholders need to maintain transparency in sharing the compliances to the brand owner-listed requirements.
Would you please throw some light on the impact of the pandemic on the market, industry, consumer behavior, recovery & forecast analysis?
Since the pandemic hit the world, there has been a paradigm shift in perceived health and safety. In the consumer's mind, the most important thought is always on how safe the food product is. This would be key change in consumer behavior as he or she will strictly evaluate all brands on parameters of safety. All brand owners need to raise the bar more so with strict regulations and compliance. Another key trend I see is the importance of packaging during the pandemic and it was visible when the industry was defined as essential services. There was no recession in the industry barring a few months in the beginning of the pandemic.
Overall, we expect the packaging industry to grow in double digits with a focus on safety. Other megatrends would be around sustainable packaging solutions and building a circular economy. Lots of developments are happening on print methods and coating to reduce the content of packaging without compromising on its functional properties. Recyclability of packaging material will be another key pillar of developing a circular packaging solution and all future packaging materials will be developed keeping this in mind. Overall, I am really optimistic about the growth of the packaging industry and definitely see this as a shining star in the manufacturing world.