Posted at 12 March 2020

How rubber seals are stretching suppliers

Paul Skade
By Mick Holland
Director, Sealing and Polymer

Since joining ERIKS in 2010, Mick has continually focussed upon building a strong team able to employ significant technical and logistical resources to deliver co...

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The food processing industry uses rubber seals widely. But legislative requirements for food contact rubbers are becoming increasingly complex - making it harder to have confidence in your suppliers' knowledge of their responsibilities, and in the products they supply.

 

Many commercial moulders and commodity seal suppliers only vaguely understand what the legislation requires of them. Or they lack the expertise to interpret the requirements correctly. Which could mean the products they supply are not properly certified, not compliant, and not safe for your application.

To help protect customers in the food and beverage sector from risk, ERIKS is taking major steps to ensure understanding and compliance.

Going above and beyond

ERIKS' policy on EC1935/2004 compliance declarations already exceeds the standards of many competitors. And now the company has established a working group to improve the level of expertise applied to its supply chain for food contact compounds, and to introduce new compliant materials.

Many of the problems for seals manufacturers arise from the number of regulations involved.

The European Union has its food contact directive EC1935/2004. The Chinese government has its own National Food Safety Standards (GB 4806.1-2016 and GB 9685-2016), affecting manufacturing equipment imports into China.

 

The South American Mercosur trading bloc has issued resolutions regarding food contact materials. The USA's regulations are amongst the longest established and most well-known - and include a 'positive list' of base elastomers, curatives, fillers and other additives, recognised by the USA authorities as safe for food contact.

All the ingredients of a compliant rubber's formulation must be on the positive list. So compounders are significantly restricted in the ingredients they can work with. Some ingredients also face additional restrictions - and even then, the requirements only make the rubber suitable for contact with dry foodstuffs. For full compliance for aqueous foods and fatty foods, the rubber has to pass extraction tests in distlled water and n-hexane respectively.

Responsibility for compliance with these tests is usually the moulder's who manufacture the finished goods, not the compounder's who designs the formulation.

Because all these countries' different requirements are not fully aligned with each other, it means even more material development, compliance validation and test requirements for rubber food contact seals.

The European dis-union

The minimum general requirement of the EU's directive is that food contact material should not endanger human health, change the composition of food, or bring about changes to the taste. More legislation to cover more specific points is intended to be introduced, but until it is, there's a grey areas with a wide range of interpretations.

France, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands have their own legislation. Germany also have its own non-legally binding recommendations.

Many European countries - including Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the UK - do not have their own legislation, but rely on the general requirements of EC1935/2004.

Unfortunately, where there's no defined legislation, the rubber industry's haphazard approach to interpreting this directive often results in inadequate declarations of compliance, which would not be recognised in European law.

Again, since the pieces of national legislation don't entirely overlap, and each country's 'positive list' for ingredients slightly differs from other countries' lists, the complexities are enormous. With so many different regulations to consider, the pool for suitable ingredients for globally marketed food contact rubber products is shrinking.

Formulation experts are facing an ever-increasing challenge to achieve a functional product fit for the intended application.

Trust ERIKS

The global nature of the sealing and food and beverage industries is making life increasingly difficult for the food contact seals suppy chain. Finding a supplier you can trust is more important than ever.

 

As a supplier of sealing products, ERIKS understands the critical requirement to ensure the goods are appropriately specified for each customer's application.

That means undertaking due dilligence to ensure all supply chain claims of compliance are valid. It also means that products are moulded in accordance with good manufacturing practice, in a suitably clean environment, and that everything is audited and fully traceable.

ERIKS also has a global Materials Development Team of in-house elastomer technologists who take responsibility for compliances, end-to-end formulation design, validation testing and manufacturing process definition for ERIKS' food contact rubber materials - ask for the ERIKS compound number and data-sheet when sourcing your food contact elasomers.

For food contact seals you can trust absolutely, you can absolutely trust ERIKS.

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