Polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE, most commonly known by the DuPont tradename Teflon®), one of the first plastics used in food processing, was discovered by accident. The DuPont engineers were experimenting with TFE as a new refrigerant, but when the gas was stored in cylinders it polymerized into PTFE resin!*
*Courtesy of IAPD.
Plastic materials find use in a variety of applications in food and beverage processing and preparation. Most materials used in food and beverage processing will have to be certified as FDA, USDA, NSF, or 3-A Dairy. The use of clean-in-place (CIP), clean-out-of-place (COP), and sterilization-in-place (SIP) makes chemical resistance an important property of materials used in these applications. This gives plastics a significant advantage over metal. Higher machine speed demands also give plastics an edge over metal: they are lighter weight, enabling faster speeds with less energy usage. Machines that use plastic parts against metal, versus metal on metal parts, will be quieter at higher speeds, improving the working environment for operators.
There are a wide variety of applications within food and beverage preparation and processing that use plastics. Plastic tubing is used for fluid handling. HDPE and Polypropylene can be used as cutting boards. UHMW is often used as wear strips on bottling and canning lines to enable higher machine speeds and longer Mean Time Between Repair (MTBR). Many conveyor components are made of plastics, including belts and roller wheels.
Plastics are used in many applications within food and beverage preparation and processing, including: