Is-PLA-food-safe
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Last Updated on June 11, 2024 by Alex Houben

PLA is a commonly used plant-based plastic, but there are things to consider before using it with food. PLA can be made safe for food use, but the hot end of your printer can easily contaminate your PLA during printing. Chemicals in the PLA filaments used for coloring and improving strength can also make the material unsafe for food use.

PLA materials usually get contaminated by the hot end of the 3D printers, and the chemicals used in the printing process can be harmful to your health. PLA can also have tiny holes and cracks after being 3D printed, which can provide a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Reusing PLA objects for food is not recommended; it’s better to use PLA for disposable utensils and cups.

Is PLA food safe? Yes, but only if you use it correctly.

Is PLA food safe?”, is one of the most common queries over the internet. The concern is completely understandable as it is related to our health. If you are also one of those who are willing to have an absolute answer to this question, just keep on reading the article till the end to get the perfect answer.

What is PLA?

PLA can be derived from natural materials such as corn and potatoes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it safe for food. PLA stands for Polylactic acid, and it’s a bioplastic printing material used in construction.

Is PLA food safe

What does food-safe mean?

When thinking about food safety, it’s important to be clear on the definitions of a few key terms.

First, what does it mean for a material to be food-grade? Food-grade materials are safe for human consumption and are usually permitted to come into contact with food.

Next, what does it mean for a food-grade material to be food-safe? Food-safe materials meet the requirements of their intended use and won’t create a food safety hazard for consumers.

Finally, what are food-contact surfaces? Food-contact surfaces are made to withstand various environmental conditions and meet sanitary design and good manufacturing practices.

If you want to make PLA food safe, you need to make sure it meets the FDA and EU safety standards:

  • Durable, corrosion-free, and nonabsorbent
  • This does not include the migration of deleterious substances
  • Does not impart colors, tastes, or odors in food items
  • Safe to be used under normal use conditions
  • Ensures repeated washing
  • Smooth finish and easily cleanable surface
  • Resistant to crazing, scratching, scoring, pitting, chipping, distortion and decomposition
  • Inspection accessible

FDA and EU-approved materials for 3D printing with PLA are food-safe because they include raw polymers, additions, and masterbatch.

Is PLA safe?

It would be unworthy to jump to the conclusion whether PLA is safe or not without going through its different aspects. The query remained a mystery for years. Different scientists have made different tests just to check their credibility. PLA was found to be safe when it is used in contact with food. 

However, some of the research and testing also shows that the PLA usually gets easily contaminated by hot ends of 3D printers and that is something that can create a real issue. The 3D printing process usually includes a potent mixture of chemicals and heat which when printed and processed can cause a real health danger. Moreover, the addition of coloring in PLA also signifies the additive and makes it not food-safe. 

I was looking into whether or not PLA is food-safe. I found some interesting information about it. One issue with PLA is that it can have tiny holes and cracks after being 3D printed. These small spaces are great breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. So, it’s not a good idea to use the same PLA objects for food over a long time. However, PLA is generally considered to be okay for contact with food if you’re only using it once.

Before jumping to the conclusion, of whether PLA is safe or not, just go through some of its major aspects.

Toxicity and 3D Printing

The very first concern about PLA is the involvement of the toxic particles that get added during 3D printing. The majority of the 3D printers available in the marketplace do come up with hot ends that include dangerous chemicals. These harmful substances can easily contaminate your PLA during printing and can cause serious health threats to you.

Chemicals in the PLA Filaments

Different chemicals are usually used for coloring up and improving the strength of PLA materials. But the addition of these chemicals makes the common materials somewhere work for the food items. If you want to make a 3D print of something that is going to be in contact with food, we would prefer YouTube to use natural or virgin PLA material only.

You can even check the smooth material safety data sheet i.e. MSDS for determining their chemical properties. This list makes it easier for the user to check whether the particular material is safe to use with food items or not. Moreover, you can also check for FDA approval for the concerned materials before mixing them up with the PLA. 

Contamination

PLA materials usually get contaminated by the hot end of the 3D printers. Different strong mixtures of chemicals are usually used for printing and processing PLA. These chemicals are usually harmful to health. Usually, the nozzles being made of stainless steel are an exception and decrease the chances of contamination but surely not all.

The majority of desktop 3D printers emit a lot of ultrafine particles with PLA. These ultra-fine particles remain there on the surface of your print objects, excessive inhalation of these ultra-fine particles can lead to serious health issues in the future. To avoid such things happening, we would advise you to do the 3D printing technologies with PLA material in a well-ventilated room only. Moreover, also avoid eating near your 3D printer so that you can keep your food protected from these ultrafine particles.

Bacterial Buildup

The other major concern about the PLA material is the buildup of bacteria. The majority of the 3D printed objects do come up with tiny pores and cracks that provide a very perfect and fertile breeding space for the harmful germs and bacteria to grow on. PLA is not an exception here and causes health issues as well.

The major drawback of the PLA is that it is not dishwasher safe. The presence of higher temperatures can easily warp or melt the PLA-printed utensils. Moreover, one can even wipe off the germs and moisture accumulated into the pores and hence can cause serious issues.

PLA can be a good choice for disposable utensils. You can use PLA to easily make a variety of disposable utensils without any problems. However, if you want to use cups and plates made from PLA multiple times, you need to carefully consider it. These items are not dishwasher safe and can easily become contaminated with harmful bacteria. I’d recommend you just use them once and throw them away. 

Biodegradability of PLA

PLA is biodegradable, but the duration of biodegradation and its process depend on the environment. Heat, moisture, and microbes are the primary factors responsible for PLA degradation. However, a compost heap can help speed up the decomposition process to a year or less. Higher temperatures and a large number of microorganisms enhance PLA decomposition. A temperature of 60 degrees Celsius, known as PLA glass transition temperature, is ideal for rapid decomposition. Although PLA is derived from natural materials like corn, tapioca, and potatoes, it might not be safe for food use in all cases.

If you put the 3D object deep into the compost heap, it will take about six months under these conditions before you can see visible cracks and signs of decay.

The process of decomposition of PLA in normal conditions is usually not boosted by sunlight. Moreover, the use of UV light can also degrade its color just like other plastic materials. The PLA materials are usually considered sustainable and can last for longer years. The overall durability of the PLA prints can easily be increased just by keeping them in a cool, and dry place.

How to make PLA food safe?

Are you planning to use PLA with food items?

Are you willing to make your PLA safe with food items?

PLA food safe

If yes, you are going to get absolute answers to all of your queries here. PLA 3D Printing filaments are widely used in a wide range of materials that are being used in home improvement stores. Health and safety are the major concerns that almost all of us care about. If you are willing to make PLA food-safe, you just need to take care of a few things and that is:

Method to make PLA food safe

  • Make sure to use a hot end with 3D printing that is absolutely 100% sterile and non-toxic. A 3D printer stainless steel nozzle can help you in creating sterile and non-toxic 3D prints.
  • Be aware that PLA should never be used in contact with raw materials or eggs. These foods are prone to harmful bacterial growth, which could contaminate the PLA and make it unsafe to eat.
  • Consistent usage of PLA for food items increases the chances of contamination. We would advise you to use the PLA materials for a single time only. 
  • The addition of colors and chemicals can improve its strength and look but can cause harm to your health issues. For use with food items, it is always advisable for you to use virgin or natural PLA material only.
  • Heating up of PLA filament emits methyl methacrylate, which is a hazardous chemical that holds the capability of hurting one’s overall health. Make sure that your final PLA 3D print is safe to use before using it.

Conclusion

PLA can be used in a wide range of food-storing objects. However, there are some health risks associated with PLA. Although PLA is derived from materials such as corn, tapioca, and potatoes, it may not be food-safe in all cases.

PLA can be made food-safe if it is used naturally or virgin. Additionally, reducing contact with PLA while preparing food can also increase its food safety.

Is PLA Food Safe: Yes! But You must Need This

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