Increasingly, a question arises among makers and in 3D printing communities: Which 3D material is suitable to use regularly for food and beverages?
At which point it is still safe to use them? For example, using a cookie cutter form or a water bottle is the same thing?
I’ve made some research, and I’ve come up with this.
Let’s go deeper into the argument and analyze it together.
The answer to this question is much more complex and controversial than we might think without a thorough analysis. Why this question does not have the right answer it is because we have to analyze different aspects of this issue:
In the ideal world, no plastic should ever come into contact with food. For no reason. Be it the greenest / eco / super PLA, passing through PET and ending up with the ABS of the worst kind. At this point, I would not want to be taken for mad.
Just as for smoking, real wars had to be fought before the producers admitted the toxicity of their products, and although today it is accepted that smoking is harmful to health, the production and distribution continues. For all bioaccumulative and non-metabolizable toxic substances that have a low level of acute toxicity, it is difficult to demonstrate the effects instantly, and studies must be conducted over the long term and on a significant amount of individuals.
All plastics have a series of additives, chemical compounds that are used to make the plastic softer, more resistant, hardeners, plasticizers, and flame retardants. However, these substances are also released to the environment in particular circumstances and function as endocrine disruptors. An endocrine disruptor is a substance that penetrates inside an organism and occupies the sites intended for some hormones, essentially reducing the possibility of the organism’s response to given stimuli. All this is associated with the onset of serious pathologies.
Here is a brief description of the best known plastic additives:
Bisphenol A or BPA is a chemical compound used for over 40 years in the production of plastics for food contact (baby bottles, plates, cups, dishes suitable for microwaves and various containers). It is also used in plastics that internally coat soda cans. The presence in high doses has been linked to a series of serious health problems, in 2006 the European Food Safety Authority set the limit for 0.05 mg / l per kg of weight, even for infants, until new studies have led to the total ban on this compound in 2011 for infant use.
Phthalates are widely used in the production of plastic thanks to their plasticizing power. In reality, they are omnipresent (nail polish, shampoo, varnishes, etc.). They have been so widespread in the last century that they are practically omnipresent, included in foods of animal origin (butter, poultry, milk, meat in general, obviously more present in fats).
Brominated flame retardants are compounds used to prevent or delay the spread of flames in the event of a fire. This acronym indicates 5 distinct groups of chemical components, and even though the majority have been banned (at least in Europe) for TBBP-A, production is still increasing. These compounds, as well as being found in plastic, are omnipresent and have now entered the food chain in their own right. Precisely for this reason, the EU has asked member states to screen populations to evaluate quantities of these compounds in our bodies.
Generally, brominated flame retardants have rather low acute toxicity, that is, they must be exposed to high concentrations to suffer immediate pathological consequences. Despite this, prolonged exposure to these toxic agents can lead to various health problems
After the short scientific parenthesis, we see that plastic isn’t safe around food, even if is a part of our daily basis and is present everywhere, if we can’t remove it from our food habits there are are ways we can prevent too much exposure and damage.
How they are released
The release of the most common chemicals present in plastics is favored by the presence of animal fats such as dairy products, vegetable oils, and alcohol. High temperatures from beverages and acidity also seem to favor the destruction of plastic materials.
Phthalates, PBA and PBB are immediately recognized by the body as harmful, and since it is not possible to metabolize and expel them, as a defense mechanism they rest in the fat tissue.
The U.S. Department of Health issues these guidelines:
Discard containers containing BPA that have scratches, even minimal, as they will wear out faster and release more harmful chemicals
Do not heat or put the plastic containers in contact with hot food and drinks, as the release is amplified
I strongly advise not to reuse too many 3D printed objects that come in contact with food, especially hot drinks.
Food safe coating for 3D printing
In my opinion, the best alternative is to coat your printed objects
Essentially you cand do it in 2 ways :
There as lots of epoxy resins that are very durable, heat resistant and FDA approved, just avoid mixing them with color additives. I generally use this :
Is FDA approved and does a great job!
This is the easiest solution, it’s not that hard to use like epoxy resin, also work great for covering holes in your print to make it watertight.
The most important thing is that there are lots of vendors dedicated only to 3D printing post-production.
If you choose to not coat your print then it’s better to stay safe and avoid nasty materials like ABS.
PLA is generally food-safe, and when I say generally because you need to find a filament without colorants and additives. Usually, it’s used to make packaging. If you need an object that stays in contact with solid food for a short time is great. Usually, in applications like cookie cutters, it fits for the purpose.
Polyethylene Terephthalate is the standard material used to create plastic bottles or other typical food containers. It is known to be totally food safe! One of the main advantages of this material is that it can be totally recycled. I try to reduce my temperature as much as possible to reduce the release of harmful chemicals
First of all, plastic is very prone to host bacterias, and cleaning them requires more attention. We must use warm water and antibacterial soap to ensure maximum cleanliness.
It’s not dishwasher safe unless you coat them with epoxy resin which in this case should withstand the high temperatures.
Avoid brass nozzles: they can contain lead so it’s much better using a steel one.
Limit time contact with food
In my opinion is the most important aspect, limiting the use of printed objects in the kitchen.
I hope this article helped you understand better what are the risk and the correct measures to take. I don’t want to stop you from using your 3D printed objects, but just take the correct measures when handling them around food. If you need a lid for your Tupperware or a funnel to use with cold drinks go ahead! But don’t put hot soup in a 3D printed bowl.
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