The safety of all materials used for packaging foods is controlled under Division 23 of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, Section B.23.001 of which prohibits the sale of foods in packages that may impart harmful substances to their contents. This regulation puts the onus clearly on the food seller (manufacturer, distributor, etc.) to ensure that any packaging material that is used in the sale of food products will meet that requirement.
Because of the general nature of this requirement, and in the absence of positive lists delineating permitted ingredients, packaging materials intended for use with foods may be submitted voluntarily to the Food Directorate (FD) for a premarket assessment of their chemical safety in relation to Section B.23.001. This applies to any type of material, whether it is in the form of a finished product such as a laminated film, a container, etc. or a formulated product such as a plastic resin, a colour concentrate, etc. In addition, suppliers of single additives like antioxidants, ultra violet absorbers, etc. may also independently request letters of opinion for their own products before selling them to formulators or converters.
Letters expressing favourable opinions are called "no objection letters' and can be used by the recipients to assure their prospective customers that the products they are selling have been evaluated by the Food Directorate and deemed acceptable, from a chemical safety standpoint, for use in specified food packaging applications. However, it is important to note that such letters do not constitute approvals in a legal sense and do not relieve the food sellers of their responsibilities under Section B.23.001 of the Food and Drug Regulations.
A letter of no objection has no expiry date. It is considered valid as long as the composition and intended use of the material remain as described in the original submission. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to advise the Food Directorate of any changes that may affect the validity of the no objection status. However, The Food Directorate reserves the right to rescind the no objection status of any given material should information come to light showing that its use may potentially pose a health risk to consumers.
Food packaging material suppliers may consult the guidance document under "publication" for details concerning the Information Requirements for Food Packaging Submissions.
Recycled plastics used for packaging foods are subject to the same regulations as virgin plastics in terms of their chemical safety. Food packaging suppliers whose products contain recycled plastics should also consult the document entitled Guidelines for Determining the Acceptability and Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging Applications under 'publication".
In the case of materials intended for use in federally registered food establishments operating under other Acts and Regulations that are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, manufacturers and suppliers of food packaging materials are advised to make their requests for acceptance directly to that agency should they wish to have their products listed in the Reference Listing of Accepted Construction Materials, Packaging Materials and Non-Food Chemical Products . Notwithstanding its role as advisor to CFIA on matters pertaining to the chemical safety of food packaging materials, the FD does not (with the exception of polymer resins) maintain lists of products that have been deemed acceptable for use in food packaging applications as a result of a pre-market assessment.
While submissions to the FD for the premarket clearance of a food packaging materials are voluntary under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, they are a mandatory requirement in other legislation and certification programs that fall under the purview of the CFIA (e.g. Meat Inspection Act and Regulations, HACCP). For more information on CFIA's requirements, please visit the agency's website.
To assist manufacturers of food packaging materials in recognizing equivalency (and thus interchangeability) between polymer resins, the Food Directorate maintains, on the Health Canada website, positive lists of polymers for which letters of no objection have been issued for use in food packaging and other food contact applications. The intent of the lists is to preclude the need for new requests for letters of no objection in situations where interchanging one resin with a comparable one on the positive lists is the only change made to the composition of a food packaging material that has already been sanctioned by the FD for food contact uses. In such a case, it is only necessary to apprise the FD of the change to maintain the validity of the letter of no objection. However, the FD reserves the right to challenge the equivalency determination made by the manufacturer upon receipt of the notification.
The polymers are categorized and coded into 12 specific types (tables 1 to 12) plus one other category (table 13) to accommodate any polymer that cannot be fitted into any of the first 12 tables. The Lists of Acceptable Polymers For Use in Food Packaging Applications include all the polymers that have been granted no objection status by the Food Packaging Materials & Incidental Additives Section of the Chemical Health Hazard Assessment Division (Food Directorate) for use in food packaging applications since November 1st, 2003 for polyethylenes (Table 1) and since January 1st, 2004 for all other polymers (Tables 2 to 13). Polymers having received no objection letters before those dates will not be listed unless confirmation is received at the HPFB that their chemical composition and intended uses remain as described in the original submissions.
The lists include the trade name and grade of each polymer, its manufacturer, the date on which the no objection letter was issued and details of any limitations imposed on its food packaging uses (notwithstanding the fact that it should be technically suitable for its intended end-uses).