A Guide to Food Grade Plastic

8 May 2024 36 view(s) 7 min read
A Guide to Food Grade Plastic

Utilising food-grade plastic is a foolproof way to ensure that any plastic items that come into contact with food or liquids are free from toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. These plastics are not only safe but also resistant to staining, odours, and are easier to clean. However, not all plastics are considered to be ‘food-grade’ quality. For this reason, it is crucial to understand this concept to guarantee the safe and secure storage of liquids and food.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive insight into food-grade plastic, exploring how this category differs from ‘food-safe’ and discussing those plastics that meet the ‘food-grade’ standards.

What makes a plastic ‘food grade’?

What is the difference between food safe and food-grade plastic?

Is food-grade plastic safe?

What plastics are food-grade?

How can you tell if a plastic is food-grade?

Can food-grade plastic be recycled?

What makes a plastic ‘food grade’?

Food-grade plastic has been manufactured to adhere to a set of safety and quality standards, ensuring that they do not contain any hazardous substances (i.e. BPA) or materials (heavy metals) which pose a risk to human health. By complying with these standards, food-grade plastics prevent any contamination, making them a suitable and safe option for food and beverage storage and transportation.

BPA in food packaging

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical which is typically found in rigid plastics such as food containers. There is some concern among the public regarding the use of BPA in plastics because it has been associated with potential adverse health effects. However, the levels of BPA detected in food in the UK are not regarded as harmful.

In accordance with food contact material legislation, manufacturers are required to adhere to limitations on BPA as a precautionary measure. Plastic products intended for use by infants and young children are subject to even more stringent conditions to ensure their safety.

What is the difference between food safe and food-grade plastic?

Food-grade and food safe plastic are terms that are often used interchangeably, however, there is a subtle difference in their meanings.

Food-grade Plastic

Food-grade plastic refers to a specific type of plastic that is suitable for coming in contact with food or beverages. This type of plastic has been manufactured to meet a stringent set of food safety standards to ensure that it does not contain any harmful substances or toxins.

To be classified as a food-grade plastic, a material must:

  • Not contain any toxins or hazardous substances;
  • Be able to be cleaned effectively; and
  • Not allow foreign objects to get into the food.

Food Safe Plastics

While ‘food-grade plastic’ is suitable for coming into contact with food and beverages, it is crucial to recognise that not all ‘food-grade’ plastics automatically qualify as ‘food safe’. Rather, food-grade plastic is only considered food-safe when it is used for its intended purpose.

For example, if you use food-grade packaging that is designed for cold food storage to contain hot food, it may not meet the criteria for being ‘food safe’. This is because the heat from the hot food could potentially affect the plastic, resulting in the release of harmful toxins into the food. Since the composition of plastic can change when exposed to different situations (i.e. heat), it is crucial to follow the recommended usage guidelines to ensure the safety and suitability of food-grade plastics.

Is food-grade plastic safe?

Food-grade plastic is safe to come into direct contact with food as it has been specifically manufactured to meet a set of stringent restrictions. During the manufacturing process, food-grade plastics undergo thorough testing to ensure that they do not contain any toxins or potentially hazardous substances that could contaminate food or liquid.

In addition to these safety requirements, food-grade plastics are designed with practicality in mind. They are typically crafted to be easily cleaned, which is especially crucial for maintaining hygiene in food-related applications.

However, it’s essential to note that not all food-grade plastics will automatically qualify as being ‘food-safe’. Instead, food-grade plastics are only those plastics which are being used for their intended purpose.

How can you tell if a plastic is food-grade?

To determine whether a plastic product is food-safe, you can inspect the resin identification code imprinted on the packaging. This code is typically found as a series of chasing arrows, which encircle one of the specific numbers: 1, 2, 4, or 5. These numbers signify the type of plastic material used and indicate whether it is food-grade. 

Conversely, if you wish to determine if a plastic product is food-safe, you need to look for a symbol which contains a fork and cup.

What plastics are food-grade?

Not all plastics are food-grade, which means that using non-food-grade packaging to store food can lead to health risks. Some common food-grade plastics include:

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is one of the most commonly used food-grade plastics as it is durable, light in weight, easy to clean, and resistant to mould and corrosion. 

Common uses of HDPE food safe plastic include:

  • IBC pallets
  • Stacking crates
  • Meat crates
  • Containers
  • Milk cartons

Our 25-litre HDPE tubs, crafted from virgin High-Density Polyethylene, are used across a diverse range of industries. These tubs offer many practical features, including a 25-litre capacity, easy-to-clean smooth inner walls, and a reinforced bottom for longevity. Their clever tapered design allows them to be stacked when empty, with up to 200 units per pallet. 

Resin identification code: HDPE food-grade plastic packaging can be identified by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding the number 2.

HDPE resin identification code


LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is similar to HDPE, however, it is a thinner type of food-grade plastic that is used in more flexible types of food-grade packaging.

Common uses of LDPE food safe plastic include:

  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic wrapping

Our recycling bin bags, made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), are essential for effective waste management. LDPE's strength ensures these bags can handle recyclables without tearing or breaking. They come in seven high-clarity colours, simplifying colour-coded waste segregation. These medium-duty refuse sacks, with a robust 160-gauge thickness and a 50-litre capacity, are the strongest in our medium-grade range. 

Resin identification code: LDPE food-grade plastic packaging can be identified by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding the number 4.


LDPE resin identification code

PP (Polypropylene)

PP is a type of plastic that has a high melting point that ensures that it can maintain its structural integrity when exposed to heat. For this reason, PP is an ideal choice for packaging that will be exposed to high temperatures, such as the microwave or dishwasher.

Common uses of PP food safe plastic include:

  • Plastic food buckets
  • Microwave safe trays
  • Yoghurt pots

Our Probase Internal Recycling bin is manufactured from polypropylene which not only makes it robust but offers long-lasting performance. What sets it apart is its ease of maintenance – it's effortless to clean and keep in excellent condition. With the added benefit of polypropylene's resistance to environmental factors, this bin is suitable for various settings, making it a versatile and dependable solution for waste management in homes, offices, and public spaces.

Resin identification code: PP food-grade plastic packaging can be identified by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding the number 5.

PP resin identification code

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET plastic, or polyethylene terephthalate, is a type of food-grade plastic that is strong, lightweight, and resistant to microorganisms.

Common uses of PET food safe plastic include:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Catering bins

Our protective face shields feature a 0.25mm thick transparent PET (polyethylene terephthalate) screen, ensuring wearers have an unobstructed field of vision. These shields are both washable and reusable, making them a cost-effective choice for long-lasting protection. Their versatility makes them suitable for a wide range of industries, offering reliable protection in situations where clear visibility is essential.

Resin identification code: PET food-grade plastic packaging can be identified by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding the number 1.

PET resin identification code

Can food-grade plastic be recycled?

The majority of food-grade plastics can be recycled. Here is a summary of whether some common food-grade plastics can be recycled:

Plastic Resin Codes

Resin code

Plastic

Safe for food?

Recyclable?

1

PET

Yes

Widely recycled

2

HDPE

Yes

Widely recycled

3

PVC

No

Not easily recycled

4

LDPE

Yes

Recycle at specialist points

5

PP

Yes

Widely recycled

6

PS

No

Not easily recycled

7

Other

Yes

Recycle at specialist points

When recycling food-grade plastic it is important to look at the packaging and the requirements of your local authority as you may be required to rinse the packaging, keep the lid on, or remove the sleeve prior to recycling.

Buy food-grade storage containers at Kingfisher

At Kingfisher, we stock a wide range of food-grade water tanks, ingredient bins and storage containers so that you can be confident in the safe storage of food items. Our range of water tanks come in sizes, spanning from 25 litres to 1000 litres. Similarly, our tapered trucks are available in a range of sizes, from 72 litres to 625 litres, making them suitable for a variety of commercial and industrial applications. 

For further information on our range of food-safe containers and water tanks, please contact our sales team on 01777 858009 or email sales@kingfisherdirect.co.uk.

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