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Engineering Materials

Leveraging safe, high-performance materials for kitchen utensils 

Consumers and regulators are increasingly concerned with the potential health risks posed by plastic kitchen utensils. In the past decade, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Commission have banned or restricted potentially carcinogenic substances, including primary aromatic amines (PAA) and bisphenol-A (BPA), commonly found in food utensils and packaging. As a result, household goods manufacturers are under pressure to ensure cookware meets evolving food contact safety regulations.

At the same time, consumers expect high-quality, long-lasting products that are environmentally friendly and available at a low cost. As OEMs want to sell in more regions where international cooking styles are in demand, they need to select kitchen utensil materials suitable for various types of cuisine. For example, globally popular Asian cooking styles typically require food to be cooked at very high temperatures.

Polyamide (PA) 66 is one of the most common thermoplastic solutions for manufacturing kitchen utensils designed to handle hot food, such as spatulas, soup ladles and tongs. The material complies with many food contact requirements, and offers easy processing capabilities, as well as a good performance to price ratio. It also delivers better thermal resistance and mechanical strength compared to several competitors, including PA6, polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).

Yet, regulators are increasingly concerned with cyclic oligomers (cPAO) that leach from PA66 and other thermoplastic utensils into food during cooking. Once ingested, cPAO does not pass through the digestive tract or break down easily. It may remain in the body for prolonged periods, and its long-term effect on human health is still unknown. PA66 utensils also commonly melt and blister when used to cook with oil at temperatures above 200°C – which may increase the amount of cPAO that leaches into food.

In 2018, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) published a report that recommended consumers avoid prolonged contact between PA66 utensils and food when cooking at temperatures above 70°C. The report also emphasized that consuming more than 5mg of cPAO per day poses health risks. However, 70% of cookware BfR tested was shown to leach cPAO levels above this limit – increasing the likelihood of the European Union (EU) taking regulatory action in the future. 

Consider the potential consequences of using a material that fails to meet food contact standards. In 2006, the EU introduced regulations restricting the use of PAA. Yet, in 2017, a household goods producer was forced to recall several utensils sold at a Luxembourg grocery chain after high levels of PAA were detected in its products. To minimize business risks, it’s critical that manufacturers select utensil materials that minimize cPAO exposure while meeting consumers’ expectations for high-quality and sustainable products.    

DSM offers a broad range of engineering plastics ideal for manufacturing houseware goods designed for use with hot foods and liquids. Our Stanyl® PA46 and EcoPaXX® PA410 are optimized to produce safe, high-performance utensils that maintain excellent stiffness in high heat and provide a superior touch and feel for consumers. Unlike polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) and polyphthalamide (PPA) competitors, our solutions don’t require retooling or high temperature molds. Both options are also drop-in replacements for PA66 – which saves manufacturers re-tooling time and costs.

Enhancing material safety and performance

Our thermoplastic solutions are proven to leach cPAO extractable below the recommended 5mg limit. Testing conducted by our research and development teams showed that 2.5 dm2 utensils made of Stanyl PA46 and EcoPaXX PA410 leached 1.75 to 3mg of cPAO per kg of food. By comparison, PA66 alternatives leached 7.5mg. With a melting temperature of 295°C, Stanyl PA46 is ideal for producing cookware designed to withstand extreme heat. The material’s high flow enables manufacturers to produce very thin designs – without sacrificing mechanical stiffness – and significantly speeds up injection molding cycle times to reduce operating costs.

Meeting sustainability demands

Utensil manufacturers are increasingly moving away from PA66, as the fossil fuel-based material is non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle. EcoPaXX PA410, our bio-based solution made primarily from castor bean oil, enables our customers to meet consumer demands for greener, high-performance cookware. It offers the highest melting point of all bio-plastics, as well as a very low carbon footprint – as CO2 emitted during the production of EcoPaXX is largely absorbed by plants. As part of our company-wide commitment to sustainability, we’re preparing to launch bio-based or recycled-based versions of all our material solutions by 2030.

At DSM, we understand that customer safety and satisfaction are your first priorities. We work closely with industry-leading household goods manufacturers to determine how we can evolve our thermoplastic solutions to balance multiple consumer expectations and minimize the risk of product safety issues. By closely following the latest food contact safety research, we enable utensil producers worldwide to develop first-rate products and expand into new markets with confidence.

Find out related datasheet

Learn more about kitchen utensils

Published on

17 June 2021

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pim Janssen

Market Development Manager at DSM Engineering Materials

After obtaining his Ph.D. in supramolecular and organic chemistry, Pim Janssen began his career at DSM as a chemist for the engineering plastics Akulon (PA6) and the biobased EcoPaXX (PA410). He also spent a few years in product development and program management for high temperature polyamides ForTii (PPA), Stanyl (PA46), EcoPaXX (PA410) and Xytron (PPS). In 2018, he joined the business management team as market development manager for water and food contact, industrial applications, and to develop a unreinforced PPA portfolio.

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