FOCOS (Food Contact Software), the innovative software developed by Viaware B.V, is becoming an essential tool for packaging manufacturers and users. It is a software which manages information about raw materials contained in packaging, the possibility of chemicals migration in food and all its related legislation. Viaware’s director and senior consultant Kris Callaert talks about its advantages. Alessandra Lacaita reports.
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Founded in the Netherlands in 2013 with the objective of developing and promoting FOCOS, Viaware was the result of a joint venture between two 20 year-old companies: the Netherlands-based Clear IT Consulting and the Belgian company Techniplast Projects. These specialise respectively in customised development on IBM platform with an expertise in workflow and document flow, and plastics processing and legislation (including food contact).
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“FOCOS is a secure web based solution that allows you to access your data and documents from remote locations,” Kris Callaert explains. “With FOCOS you can manage substance information from raw materials, create and communicate customized DoCs (documents of compliance), perform calculations and manage supporting documents. It helps users to understand food contact legislation and their legal responsibilities.”
Rolling out FOCOS
In order to promote FOCOS, Viaware organizes free workshops and training sessions, presentations at fairs and conferences, trade shows, and demonstrations based on actual company data and Food Contact scans.
The development of FOCOS started in January 2013 and it had a pilot period from May to October before being officially introduced to the market at Kunststoffen 2013 in Veldhoven, a plastics fair for the Benelux region. In October 2013 a few companies started to use FOCOS and at the beginning of 2014 its European expansion started with some workshops in Barcelona and a cooperation agreement in Portugal.
“We want to expand sales and use throughout Europe, through agents or associations,” Kris Callaert says. “Besides the existing co-operations in Spain and Portugal, we have our first contacts in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France.”
Food contact legislation
Food contact is a very complex matter for the packaging industry, as packaging materials are composed of a variety of materials, including plastics, inks and coatings, which are regulated both on a European and a national level. Food contact legislation defines which substances are allowed to be used in the packaging manufacture (as they have the potential to migrate to the food) and analyses the final product and its compliance with these substances’ limitations.
“Management of information on these substances is the first step in food contact compliance,” Mr Callaert points out. “A recent study in Ireland showed that less than five per cent of all declarations of compliance of plastics packaging materials contained all nine points legally required by EC regulation 10/2011. From this five per cent it is also known that more than 90 per cent is incomplete: information on substance with limitations and dual use additives is often missing and compliance with limitations is often not checked.”
According to 10/2011 regulation, the DoCs should contain information about applicable legislation, substances with limits and compliance information, dual use additives, functional barrier, conditions of use of the packaging material. In order to have complete information, the packaging creation process should be tracked all over the supply chain starting with the suppliers of a substance, through the intermediate products up to the finished packaging products.
For this purpose, the European Commission published a guidance document which clearly identifies the information that legally needs to be communicated for the different steps within the supply chain.
“The publication of this guidance document led to a demand for software to manage all the required information, to support compliance work and ultimately to create the DoCs based on the compliance work performed,” Mr Callaert comments. In addition the management of possible changes such as changes in reportable substances of raw materials or legislation will be a vital tool to continuously monitor the compliance status of products, update existing documents and communicate these updated DoCs actively to customers.”
He continues: “Increased control from authorities, pressure from the food industry to receive correct and complete DoCs and deeper understanding within the supply chain will lead to more reportable substances. Supporting documents, DoCs of suppliers, calculations, migration test reports, simulation reports, etc. need to be available for the authorities. The obligations of the different actors within the food contact supply chain demand a much bigger effort.”
Meeting the market’s requirements
Mr Callaert enumerates all the advantages of FOCOS: “It can be used within all parts of the supply chain, starting with raw materials until final articles. FOCOS helps to create, manage and communicate complete and correct DoCs according to the Guidance on Regulations; offers SaaS (Software as a Service)-solutions (its payment is on monthly bases and doesn’t require additional costs for maintenance and initial investments on hardware, secure, standard back-up); stores all data concerning food contact in one place; supports its customers with a FOCOS’ implementation service pack; trains the users.”
FOCOS can practically conduct a number of operations. First, it can handle management of information on the chemical substances present in raw materials. This data is both the general legislation information and the raw material specific information such as maximum concentration, maximum use levels, compliance information from suppliers and knowledge on functional barriers. “This information is recalculated over the user’s product formulation which gives him a complete overview of all substances present in his product,” Mr Callaert states. “Recalculations can be done for monolayers and multilayers materials including functional barrier information.”
Secondly, it evaluates the effective migration of chemicals in food in quantities that can endanger the consumers’ health. Thirdly, It creates a DoC containing all information that must be communicated from a legal point of view. All supporting documents (suppliers’ information, calculations, migration testing reports, migration modelling reports) can be uploaded.
Fourthly, FOCOS creates a communication module which enables users to easily communicate the generated DoCs to customers and to request missing or complete information from suppliers. Active communication is a legal requirement. Finally, the ‘Changes Management’ function stores information about changes in product formulations, raw materials or legislation, facilitating additional compliance work on products and updates of DoCs.
Perhaps most crucially, FOCOS is a dynamic platform. As Mr Callaert concludes, “FOCOS is continually innovating and improving. Every month we plan a new release of our software with new features and updates. Feedback and ideas from our customers are taken into consideration and will be used for future development. FOCOS current version contains legislation 10/2011, but we will also include other legislation for non-plastics, such as Warenwet and Swiss ordinance, covering inks, paper and other regulated substances.”