Nickel and Food Contact Materials

Nickel is used in a wide range of applications for food preparation and cooking, almost exclusively as a component in stainless steel.

Nickel-containing stainless steel is widely favoured in the food industry because of its durability, lack of reactivity with foods and excellent conductivity.

WHY NICKEL IS USED IN FOOD CONTACT MATERIALS

The properties of nickel-containing stainless steel make it ideal for a wide range of Food Contact Materials (FCMs). Nickel-containing stainless steel does not taint or alter the colour of food. It is also hard-wearing and highly corrosion resistant, making it one of the safest and most versatile food contact materials at any temperature or application.

This outstanding corrosion resistance makes nickel-containing stainless steels a material of choice in both home and professional kitchens. It is used for every stage of the food chain, from pots and pans, cutlery, food processing equipment, to preparation surfaces and food transport and storage containers.

FOOD CONTACT MATERIALS POLICIES

There are a large number of regulations, guidelines and standards in place to ensure the safety of FCMs. These aim to guarantee that the constituents of FCMs affect neither the safety nor quality of foods.

Some rules on FCMs are general in scope, applying to all FCMs; others are specific to individual materials.

THE NICKEL INSTITUTE PERSPECTIVE

The Nickel Institute fully supports FCM regulatory standards that protect health, are scientifically justified and proportionate to the risk posed. We believe that FCM regulation and standards should be based on:

  • Sound scientific evidence

  • Risk assessment rather than hazard, taking into account the specific properties of the metals and alloys used

  • The full product life cycle.

FCM REGULATIONS AT A GLANCE

Europe

EU Regulation No 1935/2004 sets out the harmonised legal framework and general principles and mandatory requirements for ensuring that all FCMs are safe. Similar, harmonised, binding rules exist for other FCMs such as plastics and ceramics.

There are no harmonised EU measures for metals and alloys. However, nationally, some countries, including Belgium, France, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands, do have their own specific legislation.

In an effort to harmonise rules, Council of Europe member states adopted resolutions and Technical Guidelines on FCMs. The Guidelines for metals and alloys used in FCMs provide an important reference for regulators, manufacturers and businesses in the FCM value chain. These recommend specific release limits (SRLs) for metals, specify test conditions and set out a methodology designed to support compliance with the EU framework Regulation on FCM.

The current European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines (EDQM) Guidelines recommend an SRL of 0.14 mg/kg for nickel. This is based on the WHO Tolerable Daily Intake of 0.012 mg/kg body weight/day (0.7 mg/day). The SRL is meant to protect against contact dermatitis in nickel-sensitive individuals.

China

New standards, or revisions to existing legislation, are ongoing in several jurisdictions across the world.

China has issued over 50 new national standards (GBs) for FCMs in 2016, establishing a new regulatory framework.

The 2016 Chinese standard, GB 4806.9, "Metallic Materials and Articles in Food Application” replaced two previous standards for metals and alloys, GB9684-2011 (stainless steel in food application) and GB 11333-1989 (aluminium in food application).

This standard includes updated release limits for various metals, including nickel from stainless steel.

North America

In the US, the key piece of FCM legislation is the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). FCM regulations are mainly found in Title 21 of the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). At State level, the main references are the Model Toxic Legislation (adopted by 19 States) and California’s Proposition 65.

Where all components of an FCM comply with both the Title 21 CFR and individual State legislation for intended use, manufacturers and suppliers can market the product.

In addition, there are a number of important voluntary standards, including:

  • NSF ANSI 51 Food Equipment Materials: this applies to all commercial equipment for producing and distributing foodstuffs (food service)

  • NSF ANSI 2 Food Equipment

  • NSF/ANSI 36: Dinnerware

  • NSF/ANSI/3-A 14159-1: Hygiene requirements for designing meat and poultry processing equipment.

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