Silicone is used for a vast range of different purposes in home and industrial applications, from mechanical lubricants to medical devices. However, it hasn’t always been this way: silicone has replaced many materials (such as traditional rubber) as the optimal choice for a variety of applications in recent decades.
Silicone is increasingly used in food applications, both at home (e.g. silicone moulds) and in the food industry (e.g. in drinks vending machines). There are several reasons for this, largely due to the properties of silicone, which we’ll explore below. But what silicone is food safe?
Before we explore what types of silicone are food safe, it’s important to consider why silicone is used as a food facing material, and what makes it suitable to use in these applications. Note that “silicone” is not a single thing and actually refers to a whole category of polymers, some of which may be more appropriate for use with food than others. However, for simplicity we can consider the general properties that food safe silicones share.
Firstly, silicone is a non-toxic and low-taint material, and as such it can come into contact with food without contaminating it. Secondly, silicone exhibits high heat resistance and thermal stability, which means that it retains its structure and properties even at high temperatures. As a result, some silicone materials can operate at temperatures from below freezing to over 200°C. Thirdly, many silicone products are “non-stick”, which is particularly useful for cookware products.
Essentially, a silicone material is generally food safe if it is listed as 100% food-grade silicone. Other materials within a silicone composition (fillers) may not have the same properties that make silicone so suitable for use in food applications. As such, they may make the material less effective (e.g. reduced thermal stability) or even act as contaminants.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that not all silicone materials are made equal. Even if two types of silicone are both food safe, one may be more effective for any given application. For example, platinum-cured silicone tubing has revolutionised the transfer of liquids in drinks vending machines, compared to traditional peroxide-cured silicone tubing which can impair the taste of liquids due to tainting. While silicone is generally considered non-toxic, metal-detectable silicone sheet goes even further to make food production safer. This sheet contains an additive that alerts metal detectors along the production line, allowing contamination (e.g. from gaskets and seals) to be monitored and minimised.
So, there are many silicone products that are food safe, but it’s important to check that they are made from food-grade material first. However, food safety isn’t the only thing to consider- some products may be more suitable for a give application than others. For more information and advice about any of our silicone products, just contact the TYM team.