Bioeconomy 4 min

The rational design of safe food packaging systems

Partners in the ANR SafeFoodPackDesign project have made a platform available to food and packaging companies that can simulate the effects of technical choices on the final contamination of packaging systems. This tool took its inspiration from a design practice that is widely applied in the aeronautical industry.

Published on 28 May 2015

illustration The rational design of safe food packaging systems
© INRAE C. Aouf

In Europe, food packaging systems are controlled using regulations that are little harmonised and vary depending on the materials used (plastics, adhesives, printing inks, papers and card, varnishes, etc.) and do not necessarily take account of industrial developments in food packaging or changes of use (increase in the number of components, materials and surfaces in contact with foods, multiple uses, domestic preparations, etc.).  Only when a health crisis occurs are any efforts made to determine the causes of contamination.  This situation tends to render consumers distrustful of packaging systems, even though it is difficult for food companies to give any guarantees regarding a product whose manufacture they do not control.

A simulation platform at the service of prevention

The ANR SafeFoodPackDesign project provided a general framework to identify and prevent design defects in packaging systems and their uses, at all stages in their life cycle.
The initial paradigm was that safety could be constructed thanks to tools to predict transfers, support decisions on the deformulation of materials and predict their barrier properties.  To a great extent, all these methods are already described in the literature.  Some have been improved, and additional data have been generated.  Indeed, it was not possible to envisage the exhaustive collection of data on all the materials (>100), substances (>8000) and contact/transfer conditions involved.  For this reason, preference was given to constructing an expert system capable of learning and extrapolating data or models from the results already available.  Rapid deformulation methods (NMR, Mass Spectrometry) were developed and applied to numerous samples of packaging systems collected with the help of industrial companies, in order to support the creation of a database on those available on the French market.  Thus it is now possible to recognise all the substances used by the packaging industry.  Similarly, different models describing the molecular mechanisms underlying transfer were developed and have been integrated in the expert system.

These calculation tools (simulations, database, expert system) were integrated under a single design and evaluation approach of the FMECA type (Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis). This approach, directly adapted from a method widely employed in the aeronautical industry, can now be implemented digitally using an open-source tool called FMECAengine.

Immediate application of the results by industry

The central idea was that each actor throughout the sector would be able to use digital simulations to evaluate the effects of technical choices (in terms of substances, materials, manufacturing steps or methods, domestic use, etc.) on the final contamination of packaged foods.
Information on the FMECAengine platform is now disseminated via special training actions (lectures, workshops, guides).  In this way, more than 280 managers from the food industry (70%) and packaging sector (30%) have now been trained in these calculation-based methods to evaluate migration.  Further training sessions are also planned for 2015.




Anne PerrautAuthor


Olivier VitracParis-Saclay Food and Bioproduct Engineering Research Unit