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Food Handling and Equipment

Once food has been grown and harvested, it gets moved to various facilities that help prepare and package the food for commercial consumption. There are many modern machines that make the everyday items we find on supermarket shelves a convenient reality. These machines do everything from heat seal to blister pack and from bottling to canning, all the while relying on plastics that can take the constant wear and tear from the speed and weight of all the food items being moved and prepared. Plastics also resist the processes that go into maintaining modern high speed equipment and also bring added safety measures to make sure our food supply is safe to eat.


The food and drug Administration (FDA) is a regulatory agency of the U.S. government, responsible for determining how materials may be caused in contact with food products. The FDA participates in publication of the The Federal Register, which contains The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), a codification of the general rules established by the Executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government. The Code is divided into 50 titles, which represent a broad subject matter.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Safety and Inspection Service regulates manufacturing, packaging and handling practices in the agricultural food industry. Historically, the USDA reviewed material composition and issued “letters of no objection” for materials deemed to be chemically acceptable for their intended application. This protocol is no longer practiced. Current policies for assuring the chemical acceptability of materials used for components of food processing equipment is outline in Accepted Meat & Poultry Equipment Publication (MP1-2, 3818 Directive 11220.0) November, 1193. This policy states that components used in direct food contact must be documented as to their compliance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDA compliance”) by a written letter of guaranty from the manufacturer to ensure that they are formulated in compliance with appropriate regulations. Therefore, USDA requirements for material approval are satisfied by a certification of FDA compliance.

For further information on USDA regulations, contact U.S. Department of Agriculture, Compounds and Packaging Branch, Product Assessment Division, Building 306 BARC-East, Beltsville, MD 20705. By phone; (301)504-8566.

NSF International, formally knows as The National Sanitation Foundation, is an independent, not-for-profit, neutral agency, serving government, industry, and consumers in achieving solutions to problems relating to public health and the environment. NSF Standards for equipment, products and services are developed with the active participation of public health and other regulatory officials, users and industry. NSF publishes Listing Books which identify equipment, products, components, materials, ingredients or services that have demonstrated conformance with NSF requirements and are authorized for Certification. Materials used for NSF approved devices must often comply with NSF material standards. Three commonly referenced NSF Standards for plastics materials are 14, 61, and 51. NSF Standard 14: Plastics Piping Components and Related Materials applies to thermoplastic and thermoset plastics piping system components in contact with potable water and primarily addresses physical properties of plastic components in piping and plumbing systems. ANSI/NSF Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components – Health Effects covers indirect drinking water additives. This standard addresses health and toxicity effects of plastic resins. NSF Standard 51: Plastic Materials and Components Used in Food Equipment defines the material requirements for foot protection, considering extractables using FDA guidelines. For further information on NSF Standards, contact NSF International, 3475 Plymouth Road, P.O. Box 1301140, Ann Arbor, MI 48113-00140. By phone; (313)769-8010.
3-A Dairy and Food
3-A was founded in 1920’s by three dairy associations in the interest of creating sanitary standards and practices for equipment and systems used to process milk and milk products, and other perishable foods. Today, the 3-A Sanitary Standards Committee are composed of representatives from many government agencies and industries alike. Standard Number 20-17, 3-A Sanitary Standards for Multiple-Use Plastic Materials Used as Product Contact Surfaces for Dairy Equipment has been developed to “…cover the material requirements of plastics for multiple-use as product contact and/or cleaning solution contact surfaces in equipment for production, processing and handling of milk and milk product(s). Test criteria are provided for plastics as a means of determining their acceptance as to their ability to be cleansed and to receive effective bactericidal treatment and to maintain their essential functional properties and surface finish in accelerated use-simulating test…” Samples are subjected to chemicals representative of dairy clearing compounds and measured for weight change and changes in surface appearance. Historically, 3-A has maintained a published list of plastic materials, which comply with Standard Number 20-17. The 3-A Steering Committee has chosen to terminate maintenance of this list. Suppliers achieve compliance with this standard through independent evaluation and self-certification. For further information regarding 3-A Sanitary Standards, contact 3-A Sanitary Standards Committee, 6245 Executive Blvd., Rockville, MD 29852-3938. By phone; (703)761-2600.

Food Compliant Materials Table

Nylon (Tecamid®, Tecast®, Nycast®/Nyoil® FG, Nylatron®)
PET-P (Tecapet®, Ertalyte®)
Polycarbonate (Makralon®, Tecanat®, Lexan®)
ABS (Tecaran®)
Noryl® PPO (Tecanyl®)
PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate, Hydex® 4101/41010L)
Acetal (Tecaform®, Delrin®)
Polypropylene (Tecafin®, Proteus®)
Polyurethane (Instantroll®)
PEEK (Polyetheretherketone, Tecapeek®)
UHMW-PE (Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene, Tivar®)
Polyetherimide (Ultem® PEI, Tecapei®, Semitron®)
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene, Tecafine®)
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)
Polystyrene High Impact
Polysulfone (Tecason® S)
PVDF (Polyvinylidene fluoride, Tecaflon ®, Solef®, Kynar®)

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