Dishes matter – what are food contact materials?

Food contact materials are all materials and articles intended to come into direct or indirect contact with foodstuffs. These include food packaging materials, disposable plates and cups, kitchen utensils, coffee makers and electric water boilers, and food industry processing equipment.

Any materials and articles in contact with food must not transfer substances to food in quantities large enough to

a) endanger human health or
b) bring about an unacceptable change in the composition of the food or
c) cause deterioration in its organoleptic properties.

Product manufacturers and importers are responsible for the compliance of materials which come into contact with foods.

Even in your home kitchen, you should pay attention to the dishes and cooking methods you use.

Aluminium pots and steam juicers

During the berry season, berries are preserved by turning them into juice or jam. But when cooking berries, you should not use pots made of aluminium. Evira recommends that aluminium pans and old steam juicers should not be used to prepare acidic foods, such as berry desserts and berry kissel, or porridge or jam containing berries. This is because acidic liquid, both hot and cold, causes aluminium to dissolve into food. Stainless steel is a safe material for cookware used to prepare acidic foods. 

In 2008, researchers at the European Food Safety Authority EFSA issued a statement on the safety of aluminium from dietary intake. Based on their assessment, the level of tolerable weekly intake was lowered to one milligram per kilogram of body weight.

Aluminium foil used for protecting food

Aluminium may be transferred to food from aluminium foil, if it is used for protecting food in a metal container. In such a case, an electric coupling is created between the foil and the container, causing the aluminium to dissolve into the surface of food due to corrosion. Holes will then appear in the foil. This undesirable effect does not occur if, for instance, sandwiches or a ceramic dish are wrapped in foil. Do not bring aluminium dishes or foil into contact with acidic or salty foods. Aluminium foil packages are accompanied by useful instructions, which you should read before use.

Metal tins as moulds and other, innovative cooking methods

You should not use metal tins in any way out of the ordinary. A countless variety of innovative cooking methods is offered to home cooks, using metal tins in novel ways, for instance. Because the printing or finishing on tins can contaminate food, and these contaminants can pose a health risk, this can be dangerous. To avoid ingesting contaminants, you should avoid trying out unusual cooking methods.

Old dishes

You should critically assess the condition of old dishes. It is safest not to use battered old ceramic mugs or worn-out, cracked and chipped dishes. As concerns new articles, you should examine whether they are suitable for use with food at all. Lead can dissolve from souvenir ceramic jugs and mugs in particular. These objects should therefore be kept as ornaments only.