What does food-safe or food-grade glue mean?
Food regulations around glue apply to any application where the bond may, in the future, come close to or in contact with food. That can be direct or indirect contact.
What does food-safe or food-grade glue not mean?
Food-safe or food-grade glue is not talking about whether you shouldn't eat a particular glue, or whether you need to wash it off your hands before eating - that's just common sense - don't eat it, don't lick it, and you'll be fine.
What kind of situations does it pay to check if glue is food-grade?
So, for example:
- Sticking a coffee cup back together
- Sticking a wooden chopping board
- Building a craft project that's intended to carry food (wrapped or not)
and so on.
Why it matters to check if glue can be used around food
Some of the glues that we can buy off the shelf have chemicals that can be exceptionally harmful to health.
The various laws are written to protect the end user from any danger from carcinogens, toxins or poisons after the bond has cured. Some of those ingredients may not have an immediate effect, but in the glue applications that we'd be using around food, repeated exposure over a long period of time can also be a real problem.
What's behind the food-safe glue regulations?
The thing that the regulations are set up to minimise is "migration." Migration is the chance that toxins or poisons that are needed in the glue move from the bond site into the food itself, and are then consumed. Migration is impacted by:
- The type and soluability of the glue.
- The type and contents of the food.
- Whether the food is in direct contact (ie the food can leach directly out of the glue bond), or indirect (is there some sort of other barrier between the bond and the glue.)
- General conditions of use - is it used in high or low temperatures, held over a long time, and so on.
What are the regulations?
I can't give legal advice of course, but here are a few links that I hope you'll find helpful:
- A good post on the FDA's approach to food safety and glue
- In the European Union the situation is more complex, with regulations also coming under plastics. This is a fair guide
- Although the UK is now out of the EU, it hasn't replaced any of the food standards yet. Here's a very readable and official site to get a view
- Canada, Japan and South America also have similar guidelines and laws.
Each jurisdiction has laws that apply to the use of glue in circumstances where the bond may come into contact with food, and laws on expressly saying whether those laws allow the manufacturer to claim that it can be used in an environment where food may come into contact.
If a bond could come into contact with food, always, always read the safety card or packaging. Look for what their claims are as to whether it's food-safe or food-grade. If it's from a good brand, they have a lot of skin in the game and so you can trust their guide, but it's down to us to read them.