Your weekly Q&A Session with Chestnut Products


Didn’t that week go quickly? If you’re in the Doncaster area this weekend I’ll be at the Turners Retreat Open Day on Saturday, come and say hello back if you’re there! I’m also in Worcestershire on Monday evening for a club demo there, so two chances!

I’m going to do something a little different with this week’s newsletter, I hope you won’t mind, instead of three distinct questions I’m going to concentrate on food safe finishes, about which there is a lot of confusion. Hopefully I can clarify a few things..

First of all, I’d like to explain what we mean by ‘food safe’ – that is, a coating that won’t affect any food that it comes into contact with, that nothing will leach from it into the food and ‘t cause an adverse reaction in someone eating food stored on/on/against it.
I have seen some products labelled as ‘food safe’ where really all it means is ‘food resistant’ – that is,  food spilt onto the coating won’t damage it. Be sure to check!

Isn’t toy safe the same as food safe? Resounding no on that one, the food safety test is far more stringent, the tolerances are much lower and the tests more rigorous. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

I’ve seen it said that ‘all products, once the solvent has evaporated, are food safe’ which is probably one of the most dangerous and incorrect statements I’ve seen in a long time. By extension this would mean they were toy safe too…lead paint anyone?

One of the biggest difficulties we face as coatings suppliers is finding a test to conform to. The test for toy safety (EN71-3) is very well defined and relatively straightforward. Whilst there are many tests for items coming into contact with food there are none that ideally suit our needs – coatings for wood in contact with food.
Simply saying that ‘food grade materials’ are used in the manufacture isn’t enough either unless you can certify that they are. Shellac is quoted as food safe but only certain grades, handled, stored and processed in certain ways, qualify for this.
We recently had some of our products tested to the EU regulation 10/2011, which confusingly covers plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. What this also covers is the coatings (ink mainly) used on food packaging, which is the closest we’ve been able to find for our needs.
The test is in three stages: we supplied beakers coated with a range of finishes, which were then filled with food simulants, namely

  • A 3% Acetic solution
  • A 95% Ethanol solution (not something I’d normally put on chips!)
  • Iso-octane

The first one simulates acidic food, the other two fatty foods. The beakers are then kept at 40 degree C for several days and the liquid is then removed and tested for any plastics that might have leached into it.
The tolerances are very low, as you’d expect, and frankly with the severity of the test we weren’t hopeful.
As it turned out, nearly all of the products passed two out of three of the tests, most failing on the ethanol solution test.

One product did pass, which is the Microcrystalline Wax, so we can now class that as food safe. The others could be deemed as safe when in contact with dry food (crisps, nuts etc) but there isn’t a test for this and as such we can’t promote this fact – we never make a claim like this that we can’t back up with a certificate.
(Food Safe Finish falls outside this remit as it complies with  pharmaceutical regulations, making it safe to ingest and thus food safe).

We’re tinkering with formulations and different ideas to come up with more food safe products to offer a choice of finish and performance. What I’d really like you to take away from all of this is to look carefully at the claims being made, check exactly what is meant by food safe in each instance and ask if there is a certificate proving the food safety.
Not only is there a legal implication to all of this, there is also a moral one too – we’d hate to hear of anyone being sick (or worse) because they’ve eaten something contaminated with one of our coatings.

Well that was a bit heavy, but I wanted to try and set the record straight! I hope you’ve found that helpful, I’ll be back next week in the normal format and hopefully a bit easier to digest (see what I did there?)

Take care