UV Varnish: Cereal Killers

The relationship we have with our food packaging is built on trust. Many of us simply assume that the packaging in which our food is contained doesn’t affect the food itself. And it shouldn’t – but UV varnish has changed that. The chemical technology that gives packaging a glossy, luxurious and professional finish comes at a dangerous cost to the health of both consumers and the environment.

UV varnish is typically applied to a packaging surface when wet and then cured instantly by means of ultraviolet drying wavelengths. These varnishes are composed of various liquid components which partially co-polymerize into a plastic solid when exposed to a high intensity UV light source.

The appeal of UV varnish to brand owners is clear – its professional, luxurious finish sets the final packaged product apart from competitors who use non-UV varnished packaging. Brand owners have also adopted this technology because of the UV varnish’s “quick drying” abilities, making it suitable for use immediately.

The inherent substances and processes associated with UV varnishes present various hazards to human health. When exposed to pre-sensitised individuals, even in low dosages, severe allergic reactions may be triggered and can be irreversible. Long-term risks include an increased risk of cancer, infertility, miscarriage, and children born with birth defects. These existing dangers are increased significantly with the risk of unreacted monomers, i.e., not “fully cured” varnish substances. If the curing and drying process is left incomplete, photo initiators in the varnish remain uncured, which can cause them to migrate and contaminate the food substance with highly toxic and carcinogenic by-products. The handling of packaging with UV varnish can also be incredibly dangerous for workers, as even finished, cured prints may have residual unreacted monomer on them.

The risk of unreacted monomers tarnishes the perceived convenience of UV varnish for brand owners. Insufficient curing reduces the packaging’s scuff resistance and creates odour problems. Of course, the danger of migration and food contamination is the most alarming of all these concerns.

With the climate in its current state, environmental impact is an important consideration when selecting food packaging. Because UV varnish is not considered as food by micro-organisms in waste, packaging that has this finish is not biodegradable and does not decompose in landfill. The need for UV drying lamps and air conditioning requirements in the UV coating process also uses large amounts of energy. Brand owners who understand today’s consumers know the importance of authenticity, transparency and caring for their communities.

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