Food grade labels are labels that meet the standards set by government regulators that allow them to be applied directly or indirectly to food and beverage products. Direct labels are those applied on to food surfaces, such as those applied to the skin of apples and other fruits and vegetables. Indirect labels are those applied to packaging that in turn touches the surface of a food or beverage.
To be considered food grade and safe for use, labels must meet regulations that apply to the inks with which they are printed and the adhesives they use to be adhered. Within the United States, these regulations are established and monitored by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and in Europe by the European Commission (EC).
Although they vary as new products are developed, the United States does have lists of the materials, including inks and adhesives, which are permitted to come into contact with food and beverage, as well as the ways they can be applied to products and packaging. The lists specify which materials are permitted to come into direct or indirect contact with food.
Direct food labels
The regulations are particularly strict when evaluating direct labels for food grade approval. These labels must not use printing inks that may migrate into the food they are labeling when the labels get wet. In addition, the adhesive must not remain on the product being labeled after the label is removed. If any portion does remain, it must be demonstrated to be safe to ingest.
Indirect food labels
Although they are not as crucial as direct labels, indirect food grade labels are also closely regulated to prevent accidental ingestion of dangerous chemicals. For example, food and beverage packaging labels often become wet after being removed from refrigeration. To be approved, inks and adhesives used in creating these labels must also be shown not to bleed when wet and present a danger of being accidentally consumed.
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