FDA Compliant, Food Grade and Food Safe

What are food contact substances and what’s their relationship to FDA compliance?

Last updated June 11, 2020

Image of the ISM FDA compliant fittingsWhat does FDA compliant mean?FDA compliant is a shorthand way of talking about materials that are safe for direct food contact. These materials are also called food contact substances (FCS).

An FCS is any material that comes into contact with or is used for manufacturing, packing, packaging, transporting or holding food. Both the plastics and the pigments used in making colored plastic fittings and cooking utensils are examples of food-contact substances.

FDA stands for the US Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Why does it matter if a part is FDA compliant?FDA compliant materials meet FDA standards. In addition to standards regulating what materials are safe to use, FDA standards also set rules for how these materials can be safely used when they are in contact with food products.

FDA compliant means more than just safe for food contactIn general, saying a material is FDA compliant indicates that it is a food grade material. It is made of the correct type and quality of material that makes it safe for food contact.

To be completely FDA compliant, the component end user must also be certain that

  • The material is used within the recommended safe temperature range
  • The material is safe for the type of food that it is in contact with (fat percentage, acidity, moisture content and so on)
  • The material will physically hold up to the environment it will be used in, including cleaning and sanitizing

Learn more about FDA, NSF and other material food safety standards >>

What is food grade?Food grade means that the material is either safe for human consumption or it is okay to come into direct contact with food products.

What does NSF 51 Food Equipment Materials certification mean?NSF 51 Food Equipment Materials certifications establishes minimum health and sanitation requirements for materials used in the making of commercial food equipment. Food, beverage and drinking water contact materials must not contaminate food nor make food equipment difficult to clean and sanitize. NSF tests and certifies a variety of plastic materials and resins for food contact end use.

Plastics resins suitable for evaluation by the NSF for food contact certification include

  • Coatings
  • Silicone
  • Nylon (PA)
  • Acetal (POM)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF)

What does food safe mean?Food safe means that a food-grade material is also suitable for its intended use and will not create a food-safety hazard.

What are food contact surfaces?A food contact surface is any surface that may come into direct contact with food. Food contact surfaces are made of food-safe materials designed to withstand the environment where they will be used. This includes exposure to cleaning compounds, sanitizing agents and cleaning procedures.

What does GRAS stand for?Substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS), are materials that can be safely used for articles and surfaces that come into contact with food under normal, good manufacturing processes (GMP).

Some additional reading

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21 from the FDA

Food Contact Materials at EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority >>

Steven C. Williams headshot March, 2018.

About the authorSteven C. Williams, BS, is the technical writer and an inbound marketing specialist at Industrial Specialties Manufacturing (ISM), an ISO 9001-2015 supplier of miniature pneumatic, vacuum and fluid circuitry components to OEM's and distributors all over the world. He writes on technical topics related to miniature pneumatic and fluidic components as well as topics of general interest at ISM.       

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