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Food Safe 3D Printing
3D printing is capable of creating many useful products, including some with food safe applications. However, 3D printing your design so that it is safe for food contact poses several challenges. In this article, we’ll discuss the caution areas of 3D printing food safe items, food safe FDM materials, and alternative manufacturing options. For the sake of simplicity, this article only focuses on FDM 3D printing.
Areas of Concern
Making sure a 3D printed object is food safe can be tricky. The following are a few areas of consideration to keep in mind when deciding to 3D print your part:
With FDM 3D printing, layers are formed with rounded edges as the material exits the extruder. The layers stack and where they meet, small grooves form. These crevices are prime spots for bacteria to grow. There may also be additional spaces or cracks in the part if warping or curling occurs during printing. While it may seem logical to simply clean and disinfect the printed part, this is not so easily accomplished. Some materials cannot withstand hot water from a dishwasher and may deform or melt during the process. Instead, using mild soap and warm water may be effective, but may not be able to entirely rid the part of bacteria. As such, many 3D printed parts used for food contact are recommended to be single-use, disposable products.
The risk of bacteria growth may be reduced by smoothing your part in post production by either sanding or chemical smoothing. An added precaution you make take to combat this bacteria build up is by coating your part with food safe sealant or epoxy. This will help cover and smooth crevices that may be hiding bacteria. However, the coating will not necessarily make your part food safe long term because multiple-use items can be scratched or damaged and expose the plastic below the sealant. Regardless of the smoothness and coating condition of your print, it is recommended to never use it with raw foods, such as fish, meat, or eggs. It is also important to note that no part can ever be guaranteed 100% food safe even with coating.