The RISE institutes Innventia, SP and Swedish ICT have merged in order to become a stronger research and innovation partner for businesses and society.
During 2017 will be one of several websites within RISE. Please visit for more information about RISE.

Safe products for everyone

Published 22/05/2013 by Anna Jacobs

As I pass one of our labs, I discover an employee cutting rubber boots into small pieces. Rubber boots?! Yes – and in the wake of recent years' toxin alerts this isn't as strange as one might at first think. In our product safety laboratory, we analyse product and materials intended for contact with foodstuffs. The presence of suspected hormone disrupting substances such as bisphenol A (a component in polycarbonate and epoxy plastics) has attracted a great deal of attention during the last few years. Substances that affect the balance of the body's hormone system can have a number of different effects, including reproductive problems or malformation, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, brittle bones and damage to the immune system and the nervous system. The EU therefore decided in autumn 2010 to ban the use of bisphenol A in polycarbonate baby bottles. Other examples of suspected hormone disrupting substances that often attract attention include phthalates – softeners used in PVC.

In Sweden, we have a self-assessment system which involves every manufacturer, importer and distributor of materials intended for contact with foodstuffs taking responsibility for their products not containing anything that is harmful to human health or to food safety. In my opinion our customers are extremely aware and responsible – after all, no-one wants to be the subject of a new food safety scare, and they also feel a sense of responsibility towards customers and consumers. Today, this isn't always easy. In order to investigate which substances a certain material or packaging could transfer to food, it needs to be tested under the right conditions – a milk carton is tested at low temperatures for a relatively long period of time, while a microwave tray is tested at high temperatures for a shorter time, and so on. One of our customers commented that "to be on the safe side, we have to expect our customers not to use our products for their intended purposes". A consumer might microwave their lunch in an ice-cream tub, a catering company might transport pickled herrings in a lidded plastic container that was actually designed for storing clothes, and a baby might decide to nibble on a rigid plastic bib. Product safety testing requirements are also becoming ever higher as researchers and authorities learn more about which substances could be harmful.

All in all, this is becoming a challenge for both material producers and those of us who carry out product safety analyses. We need to stay on our toes and to keep developing and expanding our offering of analyses, as well as keeping our eyes and ears open for new research findings and requirements from authorities. As researchers, we enjoy challenges and development, and I for one am therefore grateful to responsible manufacturers and importers as I watch my two-year-old sitting there, chewing on a pair of new rubber boots.

Anna Jacobs

Anna Jacobs is head of the group Chemical and Material Analysis at Innventia.

Anna Jacobs
+46 768767152
Send mail