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120 litre open top blue plastic drum

What is food grade plastic?

Food grade plastic is a broad term referring to the various types of plastic that can safely come into direct contact with food at any stage between the initial harvest and arrival into your home.  

This includes any processing phases, all the way through to packaging ready for sale in a supermarket to the consumer.  

What is a food grade barrel?

A food grade barrel (or drum) is one that has been designated as safe for the long-term storage of foodstuffs.  

It has been tested thoroughly to confirm that there are no substances that could be harmful to humans.  

This means there are no dangerous dyes, and no recycled plastic containing leachable chemicals.

These barrels enable you to store substantial amounts of bulk foods, such as grains, or liquids, in an airtight and insect proof container.

Are all plastic barrels safe for food storage?

The answer is no.  

Not all plastic barrels are safe for food use.  

If you’re planning to store foodstuffs, or to ship them, you should invest in plastic barrels that are food grade certified (food grade barrels).  

We will shortly come onto how to identify barrels that are food grade, and not simply food safe.

Can you use food grade barrels for long term storage?

The short response is yes.

Food grade barrels are perfectly designed for the long-term storage of foodstuffs and water.  

They won’t deteriorate, or go off, and will be perfectly safe to ingest or consume later.

What is the difference between food grade and food safe?

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) uses two designations for materials acceptable for storing foodstuffs and beverages: 'food grade' and 'food safe'.  

But there is a significant difference between them, and it’s an important distinction to make.  

Both 'food grade' and 'food safe' barrels are generally made from HDPE (high density polyethylene) which has been designated "food safe".  

By 'food safe', it means HDPE can come in contact with food (and water) and the food will be safe for people to consume. 

For example HDPE in cutting boards.

Where 'food grade' plastic is different from 'food safe' plastic however is that it has been tested to prove there are no dyes or harmful chemicals in it that could leach into foodstuffs inside.

This in turn means 'food safe' does not necessarily equate to being suitable for long-term storage. 

What are food grade barrels made from?

Most food grade barrels are made from HDPE (high density polyethylene).  

This is the most popular type used for food and beverage shipments.  

It is both stable and inert, and will not release any harmful chemicals that could potentially contaminate the foodstuffs.

Other materials used to make food grade barrels include steel.

How can you tell if a plastic barrel is food grade?

It’s easy to tell if a plastic barrel is food grade, which brings us neatly onto a question about different symbols for food grade plastic.

What is the symbol for food grade plastic?

The main symbol for food grade plastic is easy to spot.  

It depicts a cup and a fork.

The cup has a chalice shape to it, while the fork has three prongs.

Alongside this symbol, you may also find a small triangle with a Resin Identification Code (RIC). 

The RIC is a number used to identify the type of resin used in the manufacture of the plastic.

Foodstuffs are shipped most often in barrels with RIC codes of #2, #4 and #5.  

The HDPE, from which food grade barrels are made, is assigned the former.  

Meanwhile number four RIC code equates to low-density polyethylene, and number five means plastic is made from polypropylene.

You may also see number four RIC codes on freezer bags, grocery bags, and milk containers.  

That is because they too are made from HDPE.

Please note however that in the UK there is no mandatory need to identify the plastic type of products or packaging. 

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