Active Food Contact Materials Are Generally Inert

5 min. read

Food Safety Management Services Diversey Food Safety Management Services Diversey
Carine Nkemngong
Sr. Scientist-Food Safety Expert
Sep 22, 2022

Note: This content applies to Europe only

Active food contact materials (AFCMs) are used for maintaining or extending the shelf-life of packaged foods (Article 2, EC No 178/2002). They are carefully designed and regulated to help maintain or extend the shelf-life of food and can absorb substances such as water, helping to lower water activity to levels that prevent the growth of foodborne pathogens and spoilage microorganisms. Active food contact materials could be composed of one or more layers, or parts of different types of materials, such as plastics, paper, and cardboard or coatings and varnishes. They also include pads used to absorb the drip from meat, poultry, and fish in display packs. Although they are called “active”  materials, they are built with inert materials.  


Active food substances are manufactured following current good manufacturing practices (cGMP). They are inspected, regulated, and tested to make sure under foreseeable use conditions, they do not present contamination risks or cause changes in the composition of foods. Furthermore, AFCMs maintain the organoleptic properties of food. Said otherwise, AFCMs should generally not cause changes in the color, taste, smell, or mouth-feel of food. However, for foods such as yogurt and sour cream, where organoleptic or composition changes are desirable, approved AFCMs could be used. AFCMs used for achieving these desirable changes in food must be compliant with the provisions of Directive 89/107/EEC governing the use of food additives (Article 4, EC No 178/2002). 


The big question is; can AFCMs present food safety risks?  Well, if caution is not exercised, anything can present a food safety risk. However, AFCMs are not intended to present any food safety risks since inert substances are used in their design. The use of inert substances precludes the transfer of intolerable levels of ingredients from AFCMs to food. This renders foods in direct or indirect contact with AFCMs safe for human consumption. Specifically, EC 450/2009 sets down specific requirements for the use of AFCMs intended to come into contact with food. The regulation also establishes a list of approved substances that can be used in the manufacture of AFCMs.New substances may only be added to the list after their safety has been evaluated and approved by the European Food Safety Agency. Although AFCMs are made of inert substances, they could harbor persistent foodborne pathogens and food spoilage microorganisms if proper disinfection is not routinely practiced. Proper disinfection generally includes pre-cleaning the surface to remove dirt that may “interfere” with and reduce the active level of ingredient(s) being relied on for disinfection. Where the active material type permits, the disinfection of AFCMs just like for most surfaces, includes a final rinse with potable water. Remember, the water has to be potable; otherwise, it could contaminate AFCMs and the foods that they come in contact with.  


Overall, commonly used AFCMs are generally regarded as safe by the regulatory authorities in the EU. For more information on how Diversey can support the disinfection of AFCMs, please visit www.  




  1. The European Parliament and of the council. Regulation (EC) no 1935/2004 of the European Parliament and of the council of 27 October 2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and repealing directives 80/590/EEC and 89/109/EEC. Accessed on the 27th of May, 2022.