Exploring the sensitivity of the zone of inhibition test for leachable biocides from paper and board food contact materials, and improvements thereof

L. Castle, J. Kelly, S. M. Jickells, S. M. Johns, K. A. Mountfort

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The zone of inhibition method to test the release of biocides from paper and board food contact materials was evaluated. The method tests the paper by placing a small specimen directly onto culture plates of Bacillus subtilis and Aspergillus niger. The principle is that any extractable biocide will diffuse from the paper into the surrounding nutrient medium and so inhibit growth of the microorganism in the vicinity. The test was found to have insufficient sensitivity for assuring food safety, where detection limits for migration at or below the mgl -1 (parts per million) level are needed. Also, the test does not mimic the actual or foreseeable conditions of use since most paper/board materials are not intended for direct contact with an aqueous medium for up to 3 days at 30°C (B. subtilis) or 25°C (A. niger), which are the incubation conditions used. The sensitivity of the test was increased approximately 100-fold by preparing a concentrated extract of the paper to be tested and applying this extract to the assay via a blank paper carrier. This was done using methanol as a good solvent for most biocides, as a proof of principle. Other solvents or food simulants could be used to mimic the conditions of use intended for the particular paper/board samples under examination, e.g. contact with dry, fatty, aqueous or acidic foods, hot or cold. Twenty-four plain (unconverted) paper and board samples and 100 food packaging samples were evaluated using the modified procedure. The results revealed that the method has been developed to the stage where background cytotoxic action of normal paper constituents gives a weak response. Unlike the original method, therefore, the modified method with its improved sensitivity and the facility to link with the intended food contact conditions may be considered a suitable bioassay screening test to complement chemical analysis of paper/board for composition and migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
Number of pages10
JournalFood Additives and Contaminants: Part A
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • Bioassay
  • Food contact materials
  • Packaging paper and board
  • Packing migration
  • Screening - microbial screening
  • Screening assays

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