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Current Shortages of Food Grade Carbon Dioxide for the Food and Beverage Industry (UPDATE 1)

Friday, 29 June 2018

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas that is used extensively in the food and beverage industry for a variety of food purposes such as adding bubbles to beer and soft drinks, drinks dispensing systems and extension of shelf-life with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). There is currently a shortage of carbon dioxide throughout Europe which is likely to impact on the food and beverage industry in Ireland.

The purpose of this note is to highlight the food safety issues which might arise as food business operators (FBOs) try to manage their carbon dioxide supply.

Carbon dioxide is a potential source of contamination of food. Therefore, carbon dioxide used in food or in contact with food must be fit for purpose; often described as ‘food grade’. The European Industrial Gas Association has a useful publication which describes the specification and testing of carbon dioxide that is suitable for food use.

The use of carbon dioxide as a packaging gas is covered by the food additives legislation (Commission Regulation (EC) 1333/2008).  All food additives including carbon dioxide (E290) must comply with specific purity criteria/specifications which are laid down for their use in Commission Regulation (EU) No. 231/2012 as amended.

The current shortage of carbon dioxide is affecting the availability of ‘food grade’ supply. Therefore the Food Safety Authority has been in discussion with the UK Food Standards Agency regarding its interim risk assessment on non-food grade carbon dioxide sources. We can concur with their findings and can issue the following advice:

The temporary use of certain ‘non-food grade’ carbon dioxide for the stunning of poultry and pigs prior to slaughter and for use in modified atmosphere packaging of food represents a low risk to consumers. Nevertheless, FBOs should, in the first instance, seek to use ‘food grade’ carbon dioxide where available for these purposes. However, in the absence of stocks of ‘food grade’ carbon dioxide, FBO’s may substitute use of carbon dioxide with no less than 99% purity. FBOs are reminded of their obligation under the general food law (Regulation 178/2002 Article 14) to place only safe food on the market. Therefore, FBOs need to exercise due diligence in their supply of carbon dioxide and ensure that it meets or exceeds the required specification and that it is supplied by a reputable supplier. Carbon dioxide delivery systems may need to be ‘cleaned’ appropriately to ensure that there is no build-up of contaminants during the use of ‘non-food grade’ carbon dioxide (>99% purity). This is a temporary allowance only applicable during the current carbon dioxide shortage and FBOs must revert to ‘food grade’ carbon dioxide as soon as it is available.

FBOs should not simply replace carbon dioxide in MAP with another inert gas e.g. nitrogen, without first validating the safety of the shelf-life applied to the food. Where the gas mixture used in a MAP process is a critical control point (CCP) in the FBO’s food safety management system, Regulation 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs requires that CCPs are validated and verified.

FBOs should discuss problems caused by the shortage of carbon dioxide with their Competent Authority.