TPE for household and kitchen items
Whether as a seal in a bread bin, food storage container or reusable coffee-to-go cups, as an ergonomic anti-slip element in cutlery, dishwashing brushes, laundry baskets or as a purely decorative element in kitchen utensils or household items – the possibilities for using thermoplastic elastomers for kitchen and household products are enormous. Particularly in the area of kitchen utensils for preparing, storing, cooking or baking, TPE materials are necessary which are suitable for direct contact with food.
The legal requirements on plastics for materials coming into contact with food are high and are specified for the EU in the form of the EU/2011 Directive. According to the Directive, “Materials and items coming into contact with food may neither pose a risk to health nor cause an unacceptable change in the composition of food or impair its organoleptic properties.” The distributing company is obliged to provide evidence that the respective product complies with regulations. In order to obtain this verification, migration tests are required, for example, which examine whether the item adheres to the corresponding migration limit value of 10 mg/dm² or 60 mg/kg. Test conditions depend on the respective application of the end product. Accordingly, test simulations for determining migration and test conditions, test times and duration are determined by the laboratory depending on the respective product involved.
Apart from the tests to be carried out by independent test laboratories, ACTEGA DS has also carried out migration tests for the new SOFT EST.® portfolio based on thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and provided evidence of use in direct contact with food using a variety of different foodstuffs. The material is suitable for applications coming into contact with food, i.e. for all aqueous, acidic, alcoholic and dry foodstuffs, whereby it goes without saying that the corresponding migration limits must be taken into consideration.
Items used in the kitchen need to be able to withstand a multitude of strains. Food storage boxes, for example, can be frozen and therefore need to display the exact same characteristics at icy temperatures as those which are of advantage at room temperature. Such cases require a TPE sealing material which displays a low compression set at both room temperature and under freezer conditions. All kitchen devices have their own respective requirements in terms of the plastic materials used. During development, the SOFT EST.® TPE portfolio was tailored to this requirement profile.
Where PVC or silicone were often used in the past in the manufacture of household items, there is an increasing demand for alternatives today in an effort to guarantee the lowest possible migration values. In the case of items made of silicone, for example, a chemical odor and even taste can often be perceived. It is also assumed that in the case of baking tins, chemical pollutants with negative effects on health can migrate into baked goods during baking. The result could be headaches and fatigue. Furthermore, this raw material is significantly more expensive than other materials, is associated with energy-intensive processes, can trigger allergies and is regarded as over-engineered, especially for applications whose production does not demand any great temperature resistance.
PVC is particularly susceptible to the problem of migration as it contains phthalates or other plasticizers which are added to optimize the elasticity and processability of inherently hard and brittle materials. The downside: These plasticizing additives are not firmly bound to the plastic and can be eluted by fats or liquids. Furthermore, PVC is increasingly being rejected in terms of product life cycle management and its difficult recycling which is why TPE can be found in an increasing number of applications, considering its very low percentage of emitable substances, its reusable properties, cost efficacy and very good sealing and non-slip features.
The latter are of importance for the two-component items which can often be found in the market for household and kitchen products, for example, and whose hard components are largely manufactured from PP. ACTEGA DS has modified mixtures for adhesion with the soft component made of TPE which lead to extremely good adhesion by SOFT EST.® on PP, as confirmed by adhesive tests in our in-house technical center. Accordingly, numerous items can be manufactured with outstanding haptic properties, displaying a special soft grip, an ergonomic grip texture or a non-slip element, e.g. plates with soft grip elements on the sides and a non-slip element on the base or to-go cups with a collar for a firm hold and protection from scalding.
Other key features of household and kitchen items include their suitability for use in dishwashers and microwaves as well as their color-fastness and dimensional stability. As this fast-moving market also means attracting attention by way of special designs and colors, the SOFT EST.® product range offers the possibility of customized colors, with ACTEGA DS collaborating with partners capable of complying with any color request. And finally, TPE materials leave nothing to be desired when it comes to design.
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