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The Guide to Food-Safe Plastics 

Written by MS
01/03/2021 10:00:45

Plastics are a ubiquitous material in the 21st century. You will find plastic parts or material in everything from mobile phones and computers, to cars and buildings. Plastic food packaging is also something we simply could not live without. Clingfilm, Tupperware and plastic bottles are items that are used in their millions on a daily basis. 
But what exactly makes a plastic food-safe? Indeed, are all plastics food-safe or only certain plastics? In this latest blog from The Plastic People, we are going to try and demystify the plastic process and help you figure out which plastics are safe to touch your food and drink, and which ones you should avoid. 
To start, we are going to think about why we use plastic packaging in the first place over glass or paper. Following this, we will define what a food-safe plastic is, in line with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK. Finally, we are going to go through the most common food-grade plastics and why you might want to use them in your home. 
Why do we use Plastic Packaging? 
For younger readers, it might seem like a time before plastic packaging never existed but, up until the 1950s, tins, cans, glasses, and paper bags were common in convenience stores and supermarkets. Handy items storage such as Tupperware were only invented in the post-war period too. 
There are a few key reasons why plastic packaging has become dominant in our supermarkets: 
  • Safety: Plastic is a particularly durable material. For instance, many plastic packages are shatter-resistant and so will not break if dropped like glass would.
  • Hygiene: Plastic is perfect to stop food from being contaminated. This is important to stop allergens from being mixed and viruses transferred. 
  • Weight: Plastics are very light material, making them easy (and cheap) to transport all around the world. 
  • Recyclable: This may surprise you but, in general, many plastics are recyclable. In recent years too supermarkets have made sure to use mostly recyclable and biodegradable plastic packaging. 
  • Shelf-life: Plastic packaging actually helps to end the shelf-life of fresh produce, including fruit and red meats. This helps keep costs lower for the consumer. 
  • Availability: There is no shortage of plastic in the world and this means packaging costs can be kept low and keep up with demand. 
What makes Plastic Food-Safe or Food-Grade?
Primarily, government regulation and legislation define which plastics can be considered food-safe. The FSA, as mentioned earlier, is the regulatory body in the UK that sets the standards for all our packagers and manufacturers of plastic to follow. 
The most recent definition is set out in the snappily titled, ‘Plastic Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2012’. It is a fairly long document that sets out exactly which plastics can be in contact with food and for how long. You can check out the full document by clicking here. 
It is worth noting that these regulations do not necessarily translate across international borders. For instance, in the United States, plastic packaging is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and their rules are not the exact same as in the UK. 
In short, what makes a plastic food-safe is its purity. This typically means that plastic cannot use dyes or recycled material that pose a risk to human health in any way. Additives are usually a no-go zone. This always explains why items with grease and oil on them (ie. Pizza boxes) cannot be recycled. 
Examples of Food-Safe Plastics 
At The Plastic People, we stock a wide-range of food-safe plastics for businesses and consumer purchase. A typical list of food-grade plastics includes:
  • Natural Grade Nylon 6 (without additives)
  • Acetal 
  • Polypropylene 
  • Polyester (PET)
  • PVDF
  • PTFE (also known as Teflon)
There are also some plastics that can be food-safe if they have the right chemical make-up, but make sure to do your research before purchasing any of the following for food-related use! These include:
  • Other forms of Nylon 
  • PVC
  • Polystyrene 
  • Polycarbonate 
  • Acrylic  

Uses of Food-Safe Plastics 
So, why are food-safe and food-grade so important? We’ve already spoken about packaging as this is the primary use of plastics in the food and drinks industry, but there are also other key uses. For instance, utensils and plates can be made from plastic. 
The other ‘big’ use of food-safe plastic is in your fridge! Of course, you want your fridge and freeze to be safe spaces to store food. Fridge shelving is typically made from FSA-approved plastics such as PET or PETG. We provide both of these materials so that you can replace any broken fridge shelving or components with ease! Click here to find out more. 
Plastics and plastic coatings are also present in other cooking appliances such as Teflon in non-stick pans. Take-out containers from your local restaurants also need to be food-safe. 
That brings us to the end of our exploration of food-grade plastics and plastic packaging! We hope you have learnt something and feel more knowledgeable about what makes plastic safe around food and why we use it in so much packaging. 
If you require any food-safe plastic materials, please get in touch today! Email our team for more information and quotes: service@theplasticpeople.co.uk 
We would love to hear about what you would like to read next in The Plastic People’s blog. Get in touch on our social media. Our Twitter and Instagram are @barkstonplastic, and you can reach our Facebook by clicking here. 
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