It's amazing today how many things are made using some sort of plastic material. Every day items from electronics to security products to health and wellness products, they all benefit in some way from plastic materials. Sometimes the benefits are cost related, other benefits might be design or physical properties related. For whatever the reason, there seems to be no end to the countless uses of plastic materials in our modern society.
When we consider the applications where plastics are used, what is the difference between the plastics in an everyday household item and the type of material we might see going into a food application? Food grade does not mean that it is edible. It also is different from environmentally friendly, sustainable, or biodegradable. Food grade means the material (like plastics) can come in direct contact with the food we consume as part of the harvesting, processing, or packaging of the food. There are several things that go into qualifying a plastics as a food grade material. An item can be certified by the FDA, NSA, or 3A Dairy as some examples which you can learn about here. These compliance agencies oversee these activities in the US, while in Europe there is a slightly different process. Europe looks at things a little differently by focusing also on doing migration testing. This means that FDA and European standards for food grade plastic differ and are not direct cross reference to each other.
In the US, it all starts with a compliance agency like the FDA taking a close look at the chemical composition of the plastic material. They want to make sure there is nothing in the material that can harm the food supply. In addition, if anything affects the color, odor, or taste of the food, it will automatically fail the compliance rating. Next they take a close look at how the plastic material performs from a conditions of use standpoint. Things like how the material handles temperature ranges, alcohols, and greases are evaluated and documented. Conditions that may limit use are noted and cataloged for future reference.
Once a material has been approved for direct food contact or food grade use, now the plastic material needs to be run by a reliable manufacturer who is ISO 9000 certified and practices good manufacturing processes. This ensures that they are not only using high quality materials but are also processing them via a high quality process that will provide a safe product. Once a material is manufactured to the required specifications, certifications are generated and the final material supplier must be capable of maintaining chain of custody between the material and its applicable certifications. Having the right material on the shelf with the right certifications and compliance paperwork will ensure that your fabricated part will met the end users specifications.
If you need more help understanding what plastics materials meet different food grade standards, check out our Food Products Regulatory Guide online or visit our website at www.plasticsintl.com for more information.