10 things you need to know about 3D printing & food safety

10 things you need to know about 3D printing & food safety

It’s fun to 3D print things that you use in your everyday life.  However, when it comes to printing kitchen utensils that will touch food, many wonder –  is 3D printing food safe? With the chemicals and heat used to print and process 3D objects, there are valid health concerns. To clear up some questions around whether 3D printing is food safe, we’ve put together a list of the 5 most common concerns and 5 tips on minimizing these risks. 

 

5 concerns with mixing food & 3D printing

 

1) Bacteria buildup in the design 

This is a big concern as even the smoothest looking prints have small cracks and spaces where food can get stuck and bacteria grows. There is consensus from the 3D printing community on this point — one person even took pictures of prints under a microscope. Not so appetizing! If you’re planning to use it once and throw it away, no problem. For multiple uses, this can be an issue. 

 

3D printing food bacteria

 

2) Chemicals in the filament

There is some debate about it, but ABS is generally considered unsafe to use with anything that will touch food. This is because ABS contains toxic chemicals which could leach into your food and eventually, your mouth.

Natural PLA is made from corn and is generally considered safe to use with food. However, some companies include other additives (for colour or other features) that may be unsafe to ingest.  Some PLA filaments are designated food safe, but it’s important to check with the manufacturer. 

 

3) Toxic particles released in the printing process 

According to a study in 2013 by Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon, France, desktop printers using ABS and PLA plastic are “high emitters” of ultra-fine particles (UFPs). These particles may exist on the surface of your print and inhalation or ingestion of these UFPs in excess can lead to adverse health effects. 

 

3D printing food chemicals

 

4) It’s Not Dishwasher Safe

Ok, so if there is a build up of bacteria in your print, you can just wash it right? Not so fast… If you wash your creation in hot water or with the dishwasher, it may become deformed and warped with time. PLA is more sensitive to heat and is definitely not dishwasher safe (it may even ruin your dishwasher!). 

 

3D printing food PLA

 

5) Some brass nozzles contain lead

3D printer brass extruders may contain lead, and contamination can cause some nasty health problems. Exactly how much lead is in the brass and whether or not a significant amount of lead from the nozzle is transferred during the printing process is unclear. Some seem to think this is a huge problem and others say that the level of lead that would transfer into the final product is totally insignificant.  

 

Ok, now I’m scared

It all sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? It’s important to keep in mind that these debates are still fairly contentious, and the research is still too early to have delivered concrete conclusions or a clear consensus. Plus, there are plenty of things you can do to minimize these concerns.

Let’s tackle them point by point!

 

5 tips to minimize risks of 3D printing kitchen tools

 

1) Use a food safe sealant to avoid bacteria build-up

Sealing a print with a food safe epoxy or sealant will cover the crevices that may collect bacteria. For PLA, 3D Printing Industry recommends Polyurethane which you will find at a home improvement store. There are alternative food grade epoxy coatings listed here.  We also recommend not letting your object come in contact with raw meat or eggs which are more prone to harmful bacteria growth. 

2) Buy a food-safe filament

Last December, KeyTech introduced the first Food Safe PLA, offering the same resistance to heat and and impact as ABS. It also is highly flexible, and doesn’t break easily. KeyTech founder Stefano Corinaldesi was so confident in his invention, he created a video showing that the filament will not break after it was exposed to the air for 60 days. Now there are a number of food safe filaments on the market, including German RepRap’s PP Plastic and FormFutura’s HDglass™ which is an ultra-transparent modified PETG.  

How do you know if your filament is food safe? Your filament will come with an MSDS (material safety data sheet) that will tell you the chemical properties and should specify whether it is FDA approved or food safe. There is a list of approved additives that can come into contact with food here

Also, if a company has gone through the process of being food-grade certified  – it will probably say so on the packaging.

3) Use warm water with antibacterial soap to wash

Instead of using a dishwasher, wash with warm water and a mild anti-bacterial detergent immediately after use.  This will reduce the risk that your print will melt, and will also remove any surface bacteria. 

 

3D printing food cleaning

 

4) Use a food safe hot end/extruder 

To avoid contamination from your extruder, you can purchase a stainless steel hot end which is considered safe to use with food. This might be a bit excessive if you only plan to use it to print out a cup or two. However, if you’re very concerned with the risks or will be printing a lot of kitchen gear, then it might just be worth it! 

 

So, get to the punch already…is it food safe or not!? 

We hate to leave you hanging with an “it depends” but here are some of our key conclusions:

 

3 Conclusions on how to print food safe

 

1) Food Safe vs. Dangerous:

It is very difficult to make 3D printing certified “food safe” but there is a difference between certified food safe and general food safety.  Should you sell any gadgets that will come in contact with food? Maybe not. You may have to deal with the organization that oversees specific requirements of food safety in your country. However, will you get fatally ill from using a 3D printed glass or bowl once or twice, probably not. 

2) Limit time in contact with food

Joseph Larson , a 3D printing blogger contacted the FDA and found out that according to them, food safety really depends on what you are using the tool for.  Things like knives and cookie cutters don’t come into contact with food or your mouth for very long and are safe (even without food grade filament).  If you’re printing a coffee cup or a container which will contact food for longer periods of time, you may want to take extra precautions. 

3) Choose your material wisely:

Choose the right material for what you are printing. Using PLA for your coffee cup is safer because the decomposed particles are naturally occurring. However, the plastic is too soft for your hot coffee and could melt in a dishwasher. In some ways, ABS is a stronger choice for your coffee cup, but it’s not certified food safe and has chemicals that could potentially be toxic to ingest. Talk about your catch-22s. Ultimately, the decision of which material to use is up to you and depends on what you will use it for. 

 

3D printing food filament

 

We’d love to hear from you! 

If anyone has any expertise or knowledge on food safety and 3D printing, feel free to share any information or thoughts in the comments below.  

If you’re looking to try out your food grade filament by printing some kitchen wear, head over to Pinshape to find some designs! 

Until next time, Pinshapers!


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  • BotBQ

    Nice work on this article guys! The stainless steel hotend is a great tip for people planning to use their prints with food. We’ll be going pretty in depth on this topic over on 3digitalcooks.com soon.

  • stefano corinaldesi

    nice article

  • next topic should be: 3D printing and medical usage – at common people level.

  • Colin Pischke

    Great article. This conversation comes up all the time. It’s great to have an article like this to reference. Nice work!

  • Mark MacDonald

    PETG is a food safe plastic that’s easy to use on any 3d printer that can work with ABS. It would have been nice to have seen at least some mention of it in this article. I like it because it is strong, and flexible like ABS but without the warping issues.

  • luisdanielibarra

    Most people in the world today don’t have dishwashers. They wash kitchen utensils by hand, scrubing hard with soap, sometimes in warm water. Nobody dies because of it, no kitchenware melts or is destroyed, and nobody gets put in jail by the FDA for it.

  • You’re absolutely right @luisdanielibarra:disqus! We caution those who do use a dishwasher to not put their 3D printed items in it and to use good old fashion hand washing.

  • Thanks for sharing that Mark! I’ve added that to the article. Looks like the perfect filament to print glass cups. What have you printed with this material?

  • Great idea! There are a ton of things going on in this area. We have a guest blog post on this topic coming in the new year!

  • Bart G.

    Hi,
    very informative. I always wanted an article about such topic.
    In my opinion if you’re planning to print food contact things on larger scale you definitely have to have separate printer ONLY for this. Any nozzle contains wastes from previous materials so even if you’re printing FDA approved PET you finish with residues of baked ABS from past two weeks.
    I tried a lot of crazy things in 3D printing but I still don’t feel ready for FDA:) May be next printer will be for this purpose.

  • luisdanielibarra

    Yes! That is very interesting, especially for those products that fall in a grey area of safe/unsafe, like inhalers for asthma. They don’t need to be “food-safe”, but they do touch the mouth, so it’s tricky.

  • Hi Bart, thanks for your comment! Yes it’s one of those things where it’s tough to be 100% sure there is no excess residue from previous prints. If you’re planning on selling the items or will be making them on a larger scale (as you said), probably better to be on the safe side and buy a separate printer or steel nozzle!

  • Terry

    My general rule of thumb is the same as has been tested about the “5 second rule” that is that wet foods are much more likely to both deposit and pickup bacteria than dry foods.

    So a hard cookie or crackers or even MM’s in a 3D printed dish I say I would not hesitate to eat. A drink, soup or other wet foods (meats, cheeses…) no way. Items that lay kind of in the middle I would do if contact time was limited like say bread for a sandwich.

    And like in your example I see nothing wrong with a cookie cutter (assuming the cookie will be baked).

    One other fact to just clarify. Polyurethane that you mention is NOT epoxy, both are a resin but they are very different (epoxy is my specialty and my company produces it and has for 26 years).

    Thanks for the article.

  • stefano corinaldesi

    yes, but if put printed part in boiled water for 5 minutes all bacteris will be killed.

  • luisdanielibarra

    I wonder 5 minutes is too long and the plastic starts to deform, has anyone tried it?

  • stefano corinaldesi

  • stefano corinaldesi

  • Thanks for your comment Terry! It’s definitely more risky for your 3d printed item to come in contact with wet foods vs. dry foods. And thank-you for the clarification on the difference between Polyurethane and epoxy. If you have any recommendations on specific products that would be good to use on 3D printed items, let us know!

  • Terry

    A very quick lesson about the vernacular of resin. Saying resin would be similar to saying fruit while saying epoxy, polyurethane or acrylic would be like saying apple, orange or banana. That is a simple way I explain it to my customers. As for food grade resins, they are out there but since I know little about food grade I won’t speculate on what products would be food grade.

  • Great article, very important. This had some very interesting points I never would have thought about. Thank you!

  • Crafty Machines

    Crafty Machines have been using 3D FDA printed materials for its Rotruder since February 2014. Trails with big food corporations have meant that we upgraded to better materials,
    due to their cleaning processes. We have never used FDM materials as we are not happy with their surface structure, geometric tolerances and possible porosity. Even when we use SLS FDA grade plastic we use a post process of laser polishing of the surface and insist on FDA certification from supplier. We can use Plastic, ST ST metal and Silicon Rubber FDA grades. To quickly make the 3D forming wheels. But the Rotruder does not print in layers but the whole, full 3D object in one go, this allows us to process 3Kg per minute when shaping food. The technology is scaleable to bigger wheels (and 8 per set) to smaller (with 3 wheels per set) Demand for tooling solutions have driven materials development over the years and the move from prototype production to manufacturing production also has improved geometric build tolerances.

  • MasterAsschief1337

    Say I wanted to make a replica of Snake’s Phantom Cigar for cosplay, how would I make it so if I put it in my mouth, I won’t mutate?

  • kris callaert

    FOCOS food contact safety software can help 3D producers manage their obligations under the different, sometimes complex legislation.
    Check out our website http://WWW.FOCOS.EU

  • really great article and nice 3D work i really appreciate this blog,
    thank you so much!

  • Excellent Article !! i love that you shared it and also you are right that Blogging is a good way to keep website fresh as well as informative.

  • Aad Koene, www.koekjessteker.n

    Hi Guys (and Girls too), nice article, good work and a lot of thoughts to think about.
    We have a small business that makes cookiecutters and other foodwise stuff with 3D-printers.
    To get rid of the problem of bacterias stucking to our products we use Antibacterial PLA named Puremend and had a FDA-approval.
    If you wash our products with hand warm water the PLA will do the rest for you, garantied for 2 years. After that you can decompose your products by putting them in the organic waste bun.

  • Jay

    I have a separate extruder and nozzle that I use for kitchenware

  • Jeff Whitehouse

    Hey Aad Koene,
    Do you produce 3D printed items or just use what you print? Looking for a company to give me a quote on some portioning cups. Can you list your website if so?

  • Hi Jeff, I produce 3D printed items, you can see our CookieCutters at http://www.koekjessteker.com, with new models ev’ry week. If you need some quotation for portion cups or other foodsafe stuff send me an e-mail at [email protected] with the information.
    I can print with Foodsafe Purement in the colors black, white, red and bleu.

  • abitarin

    So, if for instance I print something from a high-temp resistant material that’s also food safe, can use it for storing wet food and just boil it to kill any trapped bacteria between in the gaps between use times?

  • docpkrdude

    Official FDA ruling about polymers is available online
    https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=084b1287bff74549bc5aabc04441e108&mc=true&node=pt21.3.177&rgn=div5

    an excerpt…Acrylonitrile/butadiene/styrene copolymer identified in this section may be safely used as an article or component of articles intended for use with all foods, except those containing alcohol, under conditions of use E, F, and G described in table 2 of 176.170(c) of this chapter.