In this article we’re covering the use of beeswax wraps for packaging, as we’ve had a lot of requests for it!
Beeswax wraps are becoming a popular alternative to plastic and so, the question has arisen – How do we approve them as safe for use with food?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but here are our findings after doing some research…
The typical approval
Well, typically you would refer to the legislation for materials in contact with food. However, this legislation doesn’t cover beeswax, so it doesn’t apply. So, you have to think about the principle of what the legislation is trying to do. You need to make sure that the materials that come into contact with food do not contaminate the food in any way. Therefore, you have to think about whether beeswax has the potential to contaminate food.
Beeswax in food
Beeswax is an additive approved for use in food by the EU. It has an e number – E901. If you refer to the legislation (EU) No 1129/2011 list of food additives, it states that E901 is permitted in certain foods ‘quantum satis’ which means that you can add just as much as is needed. So, you can take from this, that beeswax is permitted in food and therefore does not pose a risk of contamination. But do you need to worry about the amount of beeswax you use?
To understand if beeswax is safe to consume in high quantities, you need to understand what it is. Beeswax is a material secreted by bees. They use it to make the hexagonal structure in the hive. Honeycomb is the hexagonal structure of beeswax and the honey is sold as food. Therefore, in theory you can eat large quantities of it without any negative effect, in fact, it is thought to have health benefits – so you don’t need to worry about the amount used.
There is a piece of legislation that defines how honey should be sold and declared. Honeycomb as stated in the 2015 No. 1348, The Honey (England) Regulations 2015, Part 2, Paragraph 9 states that honeycomb should be declared as comb honey. It also provides a definition which is:
“comb honey” means honey stored by bees in the cells of freshly built broodless combs or thin comb foundation sheets made solely of beeswax and sold in sealed whole combs or sections of such combs”
Beeswax in some countries is considered allergenic, therefore the fact that the product contains beeswax needs to be clearly labelled, which it is in most cases, as it’s in the name of the product.
So, you now can say that beeswax is not a risk of contamination to food, even in high quantities. So, the next thing you’d need to make sure of, is that the process of making the wraps does not pose any additional risk.
As long as the beeswax is extracted from the honeycomb using hot water, there shouldn’t be any problems. However, beeswax is not the main ingredient in a beeswax wrap. Typically, the beeswax is the external coating of a piece of material, such as cotton. Plus, there may be other ingredients used, such as oils, resins and inks.
This is where you may have a problem. The oils, resins and inks used, need to be safe for use in food. And, the material must be as well. Many producers of beeswax wraps use pieces of printed material that is not designed for food contact, we would strongly suspect that the printing chemicals used on the material are not safe for use with food either.
Here you need to go back to the materials in contact with food legislation. One part of this legislation states that chemicals in the plastic must not migrate to the food. The same theory must be applied to the material, oils, resins and inks as the material that’s used is typically printed.
We would advise that migration testing of the inks on the material, oils and resins needs to be carried out, to show that in typical use conditions, that the chemicals don’t move from the wrap to the food. Plus, you need to consider the material itself and whether this could cause a problem if it was in contact with the food.
Use of wraps
You need to be concerned about keeping the wraps clean. Our research says that they can be washed with cool water and detergent. We would advise that some work needs to be carried out though, to show that this keeps them clean enough.
This is an area where as far as we can tell, there is no evidence to show that beeswax wraps are safe to use with food. The costs involved in carrying out the work and testing needed to establish the facts, would be probably too high for small business’ who are currently producing beeswax wraps.
Therefore, it would be good to get a number of producers together in order to be able to share the costs and get an answer for everyone involved. Otherwise, without this evidence anyone producing this product currently, is at risk of challenge by their local authority.