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I am currently developing some electronic sensors for use in monitor food quality. This type of device requires running electrical cable though piles of food products. What type of electrical cables (or cable insulation materials) are considered food safe? and are there any standards which I should familiarize myself with?

Would standard CAT5 or CAT6 cable which is used in networking be safe to use in this application?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Stainless steel would be OK everywhere. You will have to look up your local regulations to see what plastics are permissible, PVC may or may not be depending on temperature, grade, and authority setting the local regulations. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil_UK Sep 21 '16 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ CAT5/CAT6 defines the electrical properties, but not the environmental properties. And I don't think there are any standards set specifically for "food-safe cabling". However, there are certainly some kind of plastics officially allowed for food safe applications, and if you check that the cable you use are insulated with such plastics, you're most probably fine. But I'm not sure the average electronic engineer can guide you on this matter. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 21 '16 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't it be better to use a conduit for your cables, so that they don't get pulled around as the food shifts? \$\endgroup\$ – Reinstate Monica Sep 21 '16 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Off-the-shelf CAT5 cable is probably "food safe" in the sense of "good enough for my personal use involving contact with food I consume myself", not for commercial use whereby you sell this solution to others, or the food that had come into contact is sold, or consumed by employees. \$\endgroup\$ – Kaz Sep 21 '16 at 16:05
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The FDA has a list of substances which are considered safe for food contact. It might be a bit difficult to find the correct material in that list.

This is also something you can ask the manufacturer of the cable: is you cable FDA certified?

Phoenix Contact for example advertise PP cables (polypropylene) as especially suited for food industry because:

  • Very resistant to cleaning agents and disinfectants
  • Easy detection of contamination thanks to the light-colored outer sheath
  • Halogen-free

Well the first point is probably true for any PP, the other two might be specific to the Phoenix Contact ones.

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This answer is anecdotal and should be read as a guideline.

I had to design a piece of equipment that would be installed on a "wet" food line. This meant that the plastic fascia had to be "food safe". The rest of the equipment was 316 stainless steel and acceptable: -

enter image description here

I could find (back then) no guidelines that were sufficiently global or generic about plastics and, this piece of equipment needed to be CE marked so it was important to get right from a legislative standpoint. The plastic fascia was tooled as part of the design so we had a choice of materials, but what choice?

In the end, I looked at various plastic materials from lego bricks to water bottles (plus many more) and decided that the material used in lego bricks (ABS) had gained enough reputation over decades and that it was a safe bet. The justification for the choice of ABS was documented and there was never a problem.

OK, this answer is just me giving you a guideline on how to tackle this issue - I'm not saying ABS is useful or even practical for what you want. Do some research and find other materials/applications that are similar.

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There are many vendors that supply cabling and accessories that are tailored to the food, beverage and other sanitary production industries.

It would seem that cabling from random vendors that are not intended for such applications may not be of a quality sufficient for safety and standards compliance. However there will be those materials deemed to comply (see Andy's answer regarding ABS plastic) even if the intended application was not food-safety to start with and if you could be sure that such materials were used with a random supplier you would have a good starting point. You would have to do the necessary testing and material supplier chain investigation. Such research is unlikely to be cost effective unless you plan to use a lot of a certain type of cabling from a single supplier that you can trust to have a repeatable product quality (specification, process, materials etc.). The other side of this coin is that if you should trust the vendors material selection and you are satisfied that such material is food safe in your application then using it for your own personal root cellar or brew shed should be acceptable.

The suggestion of conduits (stainless steel or food-safe plastic pipe) is a valid option if it is practical and suggested in a report on Hygienic aspects of electrical installations in food factories. Passing the CAT5 CAT6 cable through a suitably food-safe rated 8mm plastic airline would be acceptable to me and probably most inspectors if the mechanical aspects are otherwise sound.

Here are some vendor pages and guides relating to food-safe and sanitary cabling and termination solutions.

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In the US, check the NSF (stands for National Sanitary Foundation) for standards regarding products used in the foodservice industry.

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