Labels printed with Fujifilm’s Uvivid inks

With no global legislation available and terminology not definitely defined, ink formulation for food packaging remains a challenge for suppliers who work closely with customers to ensure compliance with various guidelines and the safe production of printed food products. Neel Madsen spoke to a number of ink manufacturers.

It is rare that the issues that concern converters in the flexo printing industry spill out into the ‘real’ world, but printed food packaging, and any risk of potential migration of ink components, is a topic the media is quick to pick up, and ink suppliers quickly feel the effect of any public concern.


Migration risk

Migration of ink components can happen in a number of ways, including via penetration from the printed side through the substrate; contact between printed and non-printed material when stacked or rolled (also known as set-off); evaporation (vapour phase transfer) or condensation extraction.

Potential sources of migratable materials in inks and coatings are UV photoinitiators, mineral oils and resins. A functional barrier as part of the packaging structure can protect the product from migration although this needs thorough testing.

BPIF labels has published a guidance document concerning the printing of labels and related packaging for food, drinks and sensitive products. It states, ‘A migration risk may exist when any component part of the finished package comes in close proximity to a packaged item. Of particular concern is where the packaged item is destined for food use and there is no functional barrier between the packaging and contents. It must be noted that there is no one material commonly used in packaging which can be classified as a functional barrier to all substances.’

Jonathan Sexton, European sales and marketing director for screen and narrow web, Sun Chemical, explained, ‘Migration from food packaging is not always picked up by odour or taste tests, it is usually found by chemical analysis.

The migrating substances can come from a variety of sources including the packaging substrates, inks, coatings, adhesives, the printing press itself or the environment that the raw materials work – in progress or the finished printed pack – are stored in. The use of good packaging design and good manufacturing practices are critical to reducing the risk of unwanted migration of packaging components.’ The European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA) has also published a guideline on printing inks applied to the non-food contact surface of food packaging materials and articles.



Following the Inks Round-up article in our June issue, the British Coatings Federation raised some concerns regarding the discussion of compliance to legislation with respect to primary food packaging.

The association pointed out that there is no single global legislation in this area, and that the ‘old’ concept of primary food packaging being only the packaging layer in direct contact with the food is now considered incorrect, and in fact, the primary food packaging is the packaging which is sold to the end consumer, even if it consists of a number of layers, as may be found with self-adhesive labels attached to the food pack.’

It continued to say that ensuring compliance with the relevant legislation is a complex process, which is why members of the European and British trade associations (amounting to over 90% of ink makers in Europe) have a range of documents which they follow when formulating inks for use on food packaging.

‘This can give confidence to customers when buying from members of these organisations that the products are suitable for the end purpose. In addition, these documents are intended to provide the customers with the ‘adequate information’ required by the packaging chain so as to allow them to provide the requisite Declarations of Compliance demanded by the European Regulations.’

Amanda Jones, UK & international sales manager, Paragon Inks, commented on the statement, ‘Paragon Inks’ commitment, relationship and service philosophies for its global customers and the web printing industry is mirrored in the BCF concerns, as it too takes the whole issue of legislation and suitability of product for application and end use very seriously.

‘As there is no one global terminology, rule or regulation for indirect packaging, we operate a bespoke project programme for each global customer’s ink and coating requirements, working with not only the printer, but also the associated co-suppliers, converters and brand owners to ensure the final product for the end user is fit for purpose.’

Mark Bowman, managing director, ColorGen, said, ‘ColorGen takes the view that the best strategy is always to over specify a product, especially when considering food packaging, safety being our prime consideration. We work closely with the converter to understand both his and his customer’s requirements, considering our responsibility to the general public. 

In this commercial world, however, a lower spec, cheaper but less suitable product will always find favour and unfortunately some manufacturers are tempted to take risks to secure sales.

Mr Sexton Jonathan Sexton, Sun Chemical

Their arguments can, on the face of it, seem compelling but with detailed analysis becoming commonplace they often do not stand scrutiny. There are many converters who have put their trust in suppliers and are then surprisedwhen they find out just what risks some suppliers are prepared to expose them to in order to advance sales.

We see distributors being even less willing to present the true facts, although it is possible that they are just ill advised by their supplier. Trade associations, such as the EuPIA, BCF and others, are there to guide their members through the complex issues surrounding food packaging.

These associations have spent much time and effort in close liaison with the authorities creating rules and guidelines to assist their members in regard to the best practices surrounding inks and coatings for food packaging.

They also go to great lengths to effectively communicate the issues so it is unfortunate when these well thought out guidelines are conveniently put to one side when a sales opportunity comes along, especially at a time when the printer expects so much more than he has in the past from his ink supplier.’

Gary Seward, managing director, Pulse Roll Label, commented, ‘As a manufacturer of inks and coatings to the global narrow web label industry, Pulse Roll Label Products is a member of both the BCF and EuPIA. Our membership of both these organisations ensures that we are constantly updated with how legislation is changing, particularly with regard to the complex and ever changing area of potential ink migration and compliance for food packaging. Being up to date with regulations and the many associated challenging requirements ensures that we can offer our customers the latest support, information and products available.’


Risk assessment

Although there is no global standard, there are a number of legislative measures from the EU, and international and national bodies, as well as brand owners’ guidelines (most prominently Nestlé) in place to help guide converters and food manufacturers. Good manufacturing practices are paramount as simply using low migration type inks and coatings will not guarantee safe products. Mr Sexton said, ‘Printing compliant food packaging is often seen as a minefield of complex legislative decisions.

However, the brand owner, print specifier and print converter have some simple choices to make. A risk assessment should always be completed at the initial stage of pack concept design. If a migration risk is anticipated, then the pack either needs to be tested to prove its migration performance and appropriate steps taken to reduce the risk or low migration inks and coatings should be used to avoid any worries.

If the testing route is chosen and it is proven that appropriate barrier performance is provided by the substrate, then the designer has a choice of using standard inks and coatings or ‘intermediate’ migration solutions. If unacceptable migration is present, then either design in a functional or absolute barrier to migration or use low migration inks and coatings. It really is that simple!’

Sun Chemical uses a ‘Statement of Composition’ document to inform its customers of any potential migrating substances in its inks. The customer can then calculate whether their food packaging is compliant taking into account a number of factors, such as applied ink coating weight, the coverage of the ink, the surface area of the packaging and its weight, how well the printed packaging has been cured/dried and any preside additions that may have been made.


To convert or not to convert

Fujifilm offers a comprehensive range of inks and associated products that are specifically tailored to the labelling industry. For flexo printers, this includes UVivid Flexo JD, a high gloss UV flexo ink system that incorporates a variety of colours, process inks, and specialist products. Used especially for narrow web printers, it has been developed to give the highest performance across a wide range of UV flexo machinery, complementary press products and substrates.

It is suitable for numerous types of applications, including self-adhesive labels, sachets and pouches, unsupported films, low shrink sleeves and in-mould labels, and is available as Pantone mixing, process or metallic colours. Its High Opacity UVivid Flexo JD can be used to replace rotary screen printing and has a wide adhesion range on clear filmic materials.

James Whitehead, business development manager, Fujifilm, shared his views on how the issue of low migration and related legislation impact on the industry. He said, ‘There are always going to be comparisons made between standard UV flexo and low migration flexo inks and the differences between the two lie both in cost and quality.

‘For example, printing with two ink systems would be difficult and to reduce the risk of contamination on downstream equipment, you would have to convert all of your inks, becoming a low migration house. This could be an expensive conversion due to the higher price of the low migration flexo inks that are currently available on the market.

‘Driven more by the industry rather than the customer, some businesses may feel that they should move to a low migration solution because the print industry advocates a proactive approach towards food packaging safety. However, ultimately, they might find the colour density and saturation of the inks are not what they were used to.

So a switch could work towards reducing the risk of product contamination, but could also represent a step back in print quality. As a result, printers need to weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision based on their individual circumstances. At Fujifilm we are always aware of the many and varied requirements of the market and constantly strive to offer solutions to meet these where necessary.’

 Zeller Gmelin Zeller+Gmelin has a dedicated manufacturing facility for the production of low migration inks at its main production plant in Eislingen, Germany

Full conversion

Zeller+Gmelin manufactures a wide range of low migration UV ink systems for all segments of the packaging industry, including flexo, letterpress, offset, dry offset and waterless offset inks and coatings for the production of flexible packaging, labels, cartons, cups and tubes.

The comprehensive range of products enables its customers to comply with the current EU food packaging regulations, and additionally, the company is able to provide expert advice and assistance to customers who are uncertain about the use of low migration inks or the legislative requirements their products have to meet.

The company recently opened a dedicated manufacturing facility for the production of low migration inks at its main production plant in Eislingen, Germany, to cope with the increasing demand for these products, which now represent approximately a quarter of its annual production volume. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the demand is particularly strong, and today, one third of its ink sales in these regions is for low migration inks and coatings, with the rest of Europe rapidly catching up.

In the UK, Zeller+Gmelin is in the process of finalising the full conversion of one of one of the country’s leading narrow web UV flexo printers, Adare Advantage Ltd, to its latest generation Uvaflex Y71 low migration UV flexo inks.

The conversion includes the installation of a dispensing system which will use high strength monopigmented UV flexo ink concentrates, fully integrated with a colour management spectrophotometer and software system to allow accurate ink formulation, dosing and control of colour quality. Both companies believe that with this installation, Adare Advantage will be the first UV flexo label printer in the UK to switch its entire production to low migration inks and coatings.