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Food Safe 3D Printer Filament - Essential Guide for 3D Printing

Aug 01,2023 | 3D4Create

3D printers allow for the custom design and production of complex or organic shapes that would be expensive or impossible with traditional manufacturing methods.  This enables the creation of personalized products tailored to each customer's needs and desires.  

However, there are regulations around 3D printing for food-related uses to ensure safety.  When using 3D printing technology in contact with food, considerations must be made to avoid toxic materials and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Following food safety guidelines and regulations is crucial to take advantage of 3D printing benefits while minimizing risks.

 

I. Definition of Food Safe Filament for 3D Printer 

To understand the meaning for food safe filament, you need to know about the following terms first.

  • Food grade refers to materials and tools that are safe for direct food contact and human consumption. It indicates suitability for food production, storage, and preparation.
  • Food safe means selecting food grade materials that are appropriate for their intended use and will not harm consumers when consumed. Food safe materials do not pose biological, chemical or physical hazards.
  • Food contact surfaces are those that touch food during production, including utensils and surfaces of food equipment. These must be made of food-safe materials that can withstand cleaning agents, disinfectants and procedures.

Overall, the terms food grade, food safe, and food contact indicate safety, cleanliness and suitability of materials for food production and consumption without posing risks or harm to consumers.

For the United States, it complies with FDA CFR 21  and for Europe it is regulated  10/2011.

Food Safe 3D Printer Filament

 

II. Why Should You Choose Food Safe 3D Printing Materials?

1. Preventing Bacterial Growth

One way to ensure the safety of your 3D-printed items is to make sure they are free from bacteria growth. When bacteria-contaminated utensils come into contact with the food you eat, it can lead to serious health problems.

To avoid bacterial growth in your food containers, opt for containers with smooth surfaces. Smooth surfaces discourage the growth of bacteria. Additionally, when 3D printing food utensils, make sure the design doesn't allow food to get stuck in the container. This way, you eliminate the risk of bacterial growth.

2. Food-Safe Coatings and Sealants

To maintain a safe surface for food contact, apply a food-safe coating. These coatings not only prevent toxic particles from migrating and bacteria buildup on the food container, but they also ensure the material used is safe for food.

Moreover, food-safe sealants, which are low in toxicity, play a crucial role in meeting your food-safe material requirements. These sealants, specifically designed for food contact applications, are commonly used in refrigerators.

3. Dishwasher Safety

Many 3D printing materials have low heat deflection temperatures, making them susceptible to becoming brittle and even cracking under high temperatures, such as those in a dishwasher.

Therefore, it is important to confirm that the 3D printed material is safe for use in a dishwasher. Also, check whether the material has any specific temperature requirements and adjust accordingly.

4. Chemicals Produced

During 3D Printing Using 3D-printed cups for drinking tea or plates for eating should not put you at risk of being poisoned. However, it's essential to be cautious about the materials and technology used, as the 3D printing process can produce harmful chemicals that can harm your body.

Plastic materials commonly used in 3D printing, like ABS plastic, often contain high levels of toxic chemicals. It is crucial to choose food-safe 3D printing materials when printing objects that will come into contact with food. These toxic filaments release harmful particles during the printing process, which can result in severe health problems if ingested.

Food Safe 3D Printer Filament

Utensils can have direct contact with you (photo: 3dsourced)

 

III. Qualities to Look for in Food Safe 3D Printer Filament

Not all 3D printer filaments are created equal when it comes to food preparation uses. Here are the main qualities to evaluate:

  • Free of Banned Chemicals – Food safe filaments exclude chemicals like BPA, heavy metals, and phthalates.
  • High Purity Ingredients – Filaments made with ultra pure compounds avoid contamination.
  • Odorless and Tasteless – Filament should not impart any aroma or flavor to printed food items.
  • Dishwasher-safe materials - Use dishwasher-safe materials for 3D prints cleaned in the dishwasher and check temperature settings to avoid damage from poor thermal resistance.

Reputable manufacturers specially formulate food safe 3D printer filament for toxicity-free use with edibles. Refer to product details and certifications before purchase.

eSUN 3D Printer Filament PLA+ 1.75mm 1KG

eSUN 3D Printer Filament PLA+ 1.75mm 1KG

 

IV. Popular Materials for Food Safe 3D Printing

The most common filament materials suitable for food safe 3D printing applications include:

  • PLAPolylactic acid is one of the most popular materials for food safe 3D printing. It extrudes nicely at cooler temps. PLA offers good interlayer adhesion and won't easily deform in heat. It has slight porousness requiring sealing.
  • PETGPETG works well for items needing modest flexibility to release prints like molds. It resists absorbing moisture and builds stable layers suitable for short term food contact.
  • Polyamide NylonNylon composites like PA6 and PA12 offer excellent thermal resistance and layer bonding safe for high temperature foods. Nylon is prone to absorbing moisture so needs drying before printing.
  • Flexible/TPE – Flexible thermoplastic elastomers easily bend food prints free after shaping. TPE materials provide good detail and fair heat resistance.

Each material has advantages for kitchen creations. Opt for PLA, PETG, or nylon for the widest food safe options. Check needed print settings for the chosen material before use.

Material Properties Uses
Stainless Steel Durable, corrosion resistant, metal Cutlery, cookware, utensils
Ceramics Non-porous, heat/chemical resistant Plates, bowls, cups
Glass Non-porous, heat/chemical resistant Cups, cookware

Food-Safe Plastics

(PLA/PETG/Nylon/TPE)

Non-porous, FDA approved Utensils, storage containers
Coated Brass Antimicrobial, corrosion resistant Faucets, handles, fittings

 

V. Key Applications of Food Safe 3D Printing

Once you have food safe filament, get creative with edible projects like:

  • Culinary Decorations – Embellish cakes, confections, and savory dishes with detailed 3D accents.
  • Custom Cake Toppers – Print personalized messages, logos, or designs for any special occasion.
  • Personalized Cookies – Shape custom cookie cutters or imprint cookies.
  • Chocolate Molds – Create incredible molded chocolates in any imaginable 3D shape.
  • Bespoke Cake Pans – Design intricately shaped pans for wow-factor cakes.

 

VI. Food Safe Design and 3D Printing Considerations

To turn your edible visions into reality, keep these design and print tips in mind:

  • Overhangs and Bridging – Avoid steep overhangs that require heavy supports. Design objects to print without support material or constraints on orientation. 
  • Infill Percentage and Pattern – A sparse 10-20% infill speeds printing of mold shapes while using less material. Opt for infill patterns like gyroid that offer good fill distribution and strength.
  • Escape Holes for Drainage – Add small holes at the base of molds to allow excess material like cake batter or melted chocolate to drain away cleanly.
  • Ease of Release – Draft angles, fillets, and chamfers make releasing prints from molds easier. Design tapers and curvature to help food separate after forming.
  • Food Safe Equipment: 3D printers, tools and equipment contacting prints must not contain hazardous chemicals as residues can transfer to prints. Using non-food safe or toxic materials in the same machine raises contamination risks.

 

VII. Post-Print Processing for Food Safety

After models are printed with food safe filament, take these additional steps before food contact:

  • Proper Cleaning – Wash thoroughly with food safe detergent to remove any residues from production. 
  • Sterilization Methods – Boil or sanitize prints with food grade solutions. Isopropyl alcohol can disinfect.
  • Seal Porous Surfaces – Coat porous 3D printed surfaces with odourless, tasteless sealants suitable for food contact.

Food Safe 3D Printer Filament

Post processing is very important to produce safer results (photo: geeetech)

 

VIII. Conclusion

The world of food 3D printing, from stunning cake decor to custom chocolate molds, opens up with food safe filament. Seek out filaments meeting FDA guidelines and purposely formulated for kitchen use.

Popular materials like PLA, PETG, and nylon work well for many edible applications. With thoughtful design tailored for food prep, the possibilities of food safe 3D printing are endless. Follow best practices for post-processing prints before serving up your next tasty 3D printed creation!

 

FAQS:

Q1: What should I look for when selecting food safe 3D printer filament?

A1: When choosing food safe 3D printer filament, look for materials that are FDA-compliant, free of hazardous chemicals, high purity, and odorless/tasteless. Reputable manufacturers specially formulate filament to be non-toxic for food contact.

Q2: What materials work well for food safe 3D printing? 

A2: Popular food safe materials include PLA, PETG, nylon composites, and flexible/TPE filaments. Each has advantages for kitchen applications. PLA, PETG and nylon offer the widest range of food safe options.

Q3: Is PLA food safe? Can you use PLA for cookie cutters?

A3: Yes, PLA is generally considered food safe, especially for short term cold food contact like cookie cutters. Always check filament specs.

Q4: Is PETG food safe? Is it safer than ABS for food use?

A4: PETG is food safe and often preferred over ABS for food contact applications due to its chemical resistance.

Q5: Can you drink from a 3D printed cup/mug made with PLA? 

A5: It's not recommended to drink hot liquids from PLA prints over prolonged periods as PLA has low heat resistance. Use high temp materials.

Q6: Are 3D printed items food safe right after printing?

A6: Additional post-processing like cleaning, sterilizing and sealing is needed to make prints food safe.

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