The beauty of 3D printing comes from the fact that it’s such a flexible process that allows us to manufacture anything from a figurine that will stay on our desk for cosmetic purposes to a functional part, such as an SD card holder, that will make our life easier.
On the other hand, there are a few areas where the suitability of 3D printed objects isn’t very established just yet, such as food-related usage, where the material and the process used for manufacturing the item can cause safety risks.
Today, we will go into the topic of food safety in 3D printing, particularly for TPU (flexible) filament, where we will discover if it’s possible to 3D print various food-related objects with TPU and use them.
So, is 3D printed TPU filament food safe?
While TPU itself isn’t inherently food-safe in all cases, even if you do find TPU that is indeed food safe, the process of 3D printing would cause the model you have printed not to be food-safe anymore, meaning that you shouldn’t use 3D printed TPU in areas that would involve food.
Next up, we will take a deeper look into the food safety of 3D printed TPU filament, find out the dangers of utilizing 3D printed objects for food-related usage, and discuss whether it’s possible to print entirely food-safe objects with 3D printing.
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Is 3D Printed TPU Filament Food Safe?
As the properties of the material itself are very significant for determining if it’s possible to 3D print a food-safe object at all, knowing whether the filament you’re using is food-safe or not is one of the first things to find out.
Unfortunately, under standard household conditions with no additional steps taken for food safety purposes, 3D printed TPU filament will not be food-safe by any means, even if the TPU itself you’re using is approved as a food-safe material by the authorities.
As the 3D printing process introduces many elements that cause the 3D printed object to become unsafe in terms of food safety, we highly recommend employing 3D printed objects, regardless of the filament you have printed them with, for food-related usage.
While this is definitely disappointing, especially considering that we can use 3D printed objects in so many areas of our lives, food safety is an area where there is no need to take unnecessary risks as it can negatively affect our health.
Why Is It Dangerous to Use 3D Printed Objects for Food-Related Things?
While there are so many different usage areas for 3D printing ranging from cosmetic items to fully functional parts, the subject of printing 3D printed objects for food-related usage is a unique one that requires careful consideration.
The first factor that makes it dangerous to utilize 3D printed objects for food-related usage is the toxicity of the parts and materials in the 3D printing process. Every piece involved, such as the printer’s brass nozzle, the insides of the extruder assembly, and even the filament itself, can be toxic and cause the 3D printed object to be unsafe.
Combined with the dirt and old filament residue that builds up in the 3D printer over time, there is almost no doubt that these toxic components will make their way into your 3D printed object, making it unsafe for food-related usage under any condition.
Another factor that makes it a bad idea to use 3D printed objects where food is involved is the layer-based structure of such objects, which makes it very easy for bacteria and mold to develop due to the vast amount of spaces and cracks that exist in these structures.
No matter how clean you keep the 3D printed object, even if you wash it thoroughly directly after usage, the bacteria will, without a doubt, find their way through these cracks as a result of food-related use, slowly contaminating it and making it a health hazard over time.
Is It Possible to 3D Print Entirely Food-Safe Objects?
It’s undeniable that there are way too many hazards to make FDM 3D printing a straightforward and viable process for manufacturing food-safe objects that you can use without worry.
As it stands, 3D printing objects that are entirely food-safe is not possible under standard household conditions due to the many risks involved in the process, with many variables posing a direct threat to the food safety of the object you print.
The toxicity of filaments and printer parts, the likelihood of bacteria and mold growth, and the possibility of unwanted materials getting into the object due to 3D printer faults and cleanliness status are only some of the examples that make it unsafe to utilize 3D printed objects for food-related usage.
While applying a food-safe coating to a 3D printed object can be possible, we believe that such a process should only be performed by professionals who know the ins and outs of what makes a 3D printed object dangerous from a food safety perspective and how to negate them.
The topic of food safety in 3D printing is definitely an interesting one, as food is one of the few areas where 3D printed models aren’t too suitable for usage with the current conditions. That being said, we have no doubt that technological advancements will make food-safe 3D printing just as simple as regular 3D printing is in the near future.
To quickly recap, even if you were to find a spool of TPU filament approved explicitly as food-safe, the 3D printing process itself causes the 3D printed model not to be food-safe for numerous reasons, meaning that you shouldn’t use 3D printed TPU for food-related scenarios.
Metal fragments and residue from filaments you have printed with earlier mixing into the print and the formation of bacteria mold due to imperfections and crevices on the model are some examples of the factors that cause the 3D printing process not to be food-safe, making it best to avoid using 3D printed objects for food.
Mike started his 3D printing journey with the Anet A8 when it first came out back in 2017, and has been obsessed with 3D printers ever since. Nowadays, he primarily uses his Ender 3 to print functional parts that make his life more convenient whenever possible.