Non-targeted screening for contaminants in paper and board food-contact materials using effect-directed analysis and accurate mass spectrometry

<p>Due to large knowledge gaps in chemical composition and toxicological data for substances involved, paper and board food-contact materials (P&B FCM) have been emerging as a FCM type of particular concern for consumer safety. This study describes the development of a step-by-step strategy, including extraction, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) fractionation, tentative identification of relevant substances and <i>in vitro</i> testing of selected tentatively identified substances. As a case study, we used two fractions from a recycled pizza box sample which exhibited aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) activity. These fractions were analysed by gas chromatography (GC) and ultra-HPLC (UHPLC) coupled to quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometers (QTOF MS) in order tentatively to identify substances. The elemental composition was determined for peaks above a threshold, and compared with entries in a commercial mass spectral library for GC-MS (GC-EI-QTOF MS) analysis and an in-house built library of accurate masses for substances known to be used in P&B packaging for UHPLC-QTOF analysis. Of 75 tentatively identified substances, 15 were initially selected for further testing <i>in vitro</i>; however, only seven were commercially available and subsequently tested <i>in vitro</i> and quantified. Of these seven, the identities of three pigments found in printing inks were confirmed by UHPLC tandem mass spectrometry (QqQ MS/MS). Two pigments had entries in the database, meaning that a material relevant accurate mass database can provide a fast tentative identification. Pure standards of the seven tentatively identified substances were tested <i>in vitro</i> but could not explain a significant proportion of the AhR-response in the extract. Targeted analyses of dioxins and PCBs, both well-known AhR agonists, was performed. However, the dioxins could explain approximately 3% of the activity observed in the pizza box extract indicating that some very AhR active substance(s) still remain to be identified in recycled low quality P&B.</p>