Safety

Before You Buy: How Plastic Products Are Tested for Quality and Safety

Plastic packaging and products are tested again and again at various points in the manufacturing process to make sure they can do their jobs safely and effectively.

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Plastic packaging and products are not just tested in their finished state—but also rigorously tested from inception as a resin, with additional testing throughout each stage of manufacturing. This all happens way before packaging and products ever hit the shelves in stores.

Companies invest a lot of time, effort and care into determining which type of material makes the most sense for a certain product or package.

Why do companies often choose plastic?

While there are countless options to choose from, plastic is often selected because of its ability to perform when other materials simply cannot.

Considerations include:

  • The purpose of the package or product
  • How the selected material aligns with the brand
  • Short-term and long-term costs—this includes evaluating the material’s entire life cycle

What kinds of tests are done to make sure plastic products and packaging are safe, durable and environmentally responsible?

Polymer Safety

Types of Testing Performed at Various Stages

Material Suppliers Processors Brand Owners
Safety

Material SuppliersTest for safe use opportunities of specific resins

ProcessorsReview brand owner requests and material supplier testing reports; perform additional testing if needed

Brand OwnersReview testing reports and product request response from processors and material suppliers to confirm everything meets brand standards and regulation requirements; perform additional testing if needed

CONTACT & MIGRATION

Material SuppliersTest for safe contact with other products, migration and toxicology, and environmental exposures

ProcessorsReview brand owner requests and material supplier testing reports; perform additional testing if needed

Brand OwnersReview all testing reports from processors and material suppliers to confirm everything meets brand standards and regulation requirements

DURABILITY

Material SuppliersTest resin durability in select finished product scenarios

ProcessorsReview material supplier reports on resin durability and compare with brand owner request along with manufacturing process

Brand OwnersPerform additional durability testing to ensure product meets/exceeds usage needs

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Material SuppliersReview recyclability of specific resins and finished product scenarios

ProcessorsEnsure recyclability assessment aligns with the manufacturing process and intended usage of finished product

Brand OwnersReview recyclability assessment and may perform a life cycle assessment of finished product

What’s the process like for children’s plastic toys?

It all starts with the manufacturing company’s idea or concept. After the intended functions, features, shape, assembly and target user age are identified, a model, also known as a prototype, is designed.

Prototypes are tested for usage—both intentional and unintentional—and materials safety for each of those uses.

  1. The design is refined based on prototype testing to ensure the product is safe. This includes testing the material that makes up the product, as well as the many ways the product can be used.
  2. A variety of tests are carried out to meet safety standards:

    1. Chemical, mechanical and physical tests ensure banned or restricted substances are not present in the toys. Tests are conducted in many areas, including:

      1. Migration and content
      2. Softeners, dyes and chemical compounds
      3. Prolonged exposure
    2. Hazard tests ensure the toy is safe and accessible for its intended audience. These tests assess:

      1. Sharp points or edges
      2. Small parts
      3. Use and abuse
      4. Flammability
    3. Abuse tests ensure quality, durability and safety.

      1. Prototypes are tested in harsh environments to make sure they stand up to wear and tear, based on the type of toy and information provided by the manufacturer in written directions, instructions, labeling and packaging.
      2. Tests include repeat and subsequent environmental exposure, as well as testing of mechanical components used during play

Regardless of where they’re manufactured, toys must comply with the regulations of the region where they will be sold. For instance, if the toy is sold in the U.S. but is made in China, it must comply with the U.S. standard for toy safety—ASTM F963. Only once the toy has passed this testing can it move into the manufacturing stage.

After the prototype passes all testing and review, the product can be manufactured.

  1. This includes production, packaging, shipment and merchandising.
  2. During manufacturing, products are randomly selected and retested to make sure they’re safe and that they comply with regulations.
  3. The Toy Safety Certification Mark shows that the product has been tested for quality and safety. This certification means manufacturers can feel confident that tests and procedures have been carried out the right way throughout the whole supply chain.

What’s the process like for plastic food packaging specifically?

First, a food manufacturing company determines which kind of packaging is needed based on a number of key considerations:

  • Food product properties
  • Shelf life
  • Distribution
  • Temperature range
  • Merchandising
  • Budget
  • Brand standards

Sometimes the food manufacturing company will find that a viable plastic packaging option already exists, and sometimes a new solution will be created.

If an option already exists, a processing company will review all research and testing data.

Two reviews happen at this stage:

  1. The material’s composition is reviewed to ensure the selected plastic material is appropriate to come into contact with food—the resin supplier typically provides this research and FDA approvals.
  2. The packaging producer completes testing before the product is created and sold to a food manufacturing company. These tests include performance requirements (migration, distribution, shelf life, consumer usage, etc.) and operational requirements (determining whether any changes need to be made in existing plants).

It doesn’t always end there—if the processing company determines additional review, such as toxicology testing, is needed, it will then facilitate that. There are no loopholes or shortcuts when it comes to ensuring products and packaging are safe.

If no current solution exists, the manufacturing company will need to work with a processing company and a resin supplier to develop a new product.

This means toxicology testing and FDA review processes will be needed. It can take more than two years to develop the resin and get approval from the FDA, submitting for a food contact substance notification.

Once a plastic packaging material is selected and a processing company is employed, the food manufacturing company implements its own testing to ensure it meets the original specs, performance requirements and food safety quality. This can include:

  1. Reviewing toxicology reports
  2. Implementing and/or reviewing life cycle analysis reports
  3. In-house durability and consumer usage testing
  4. Communicating package labeling requirements with marketing to make sure consumers know how the package is intended for use

Getting a plastic product to market is no easy task. A lot of time and resources are invested to make sure the plastics we come in contact with every day are safe and effective. These standard practices and checks and balances are meant to provide peace of mind for manufacturers, brand owners and end users to know the products they’re using are safe.

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