The safe use of inkjet printing for edible products

Personalization is a growing trend for manufacturers looking to differentiate their food and pharmaceutical products. However, there are several considerations before the customisation process can begin, including safety, functionality and regulatory impact, as well as maintaining visual appeal and taste. Digital inkjet printing provides a novel way to customize food and pharmaceutical products – without compromising safety.

A long history

Printing on food and pharmaceutical products has been established for a while – from the use by date on eggs to imagery on birthday cakes. But innovation in digital printing is shaking up the industry once again, allowing for a faster market response, shorter print runs and regional variations of products. Customization brings benefits to pharmaceutical manufacturers too, as unique codes can easily be added to products – reducing the risk of counterfeits. 

But with an ever-increasing choice of digital inks on the market, how can we ensure the materials we use are safe and reliable? Digital ink is a complex mixture, comprised of colorants, adhesion promoters and other functional materials. As well as the challenge of creating a reliable consistency, there is also the risk of imparting impurities and adulteration, which can significantly impact the brand and business. It is therefore crucial to consider the materials and process carefully before making a purchasing decision.  

Making the right choice

When choosing a digital ink, functionality is vital. Not only does it need to look great, but it needs to work well in formulation too – with the right drop formation, wetting behavior and color performance. This is particularly challenging when the ink must be as ‘universal’ as possible, despite the variations in material surface. For example, chocolate, marshmallows and snacks all have differing fat or oil content at the surface, affecting the ink wetting consistency and resulting appearance. Many manufacturers are also turning to more natural, rather than synthetic colors, in-line with current consumer trends. However, this can add further complexity to color management.  

Compliance to food safety regulations and regional legislation is also an important consideration, as different inks are subject to varied requirements across the world. This is particularly true across the pharmaceutical industry.  

As well as the ingredient itself, manufacturers must also consider the manufacturing conditions of edible inks. Facilities certified for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) help ensure that any product manufactured is consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. Production risks can also be reduced by using the right packaging, to ensure the content of the ink is not affected.  

Innovation in inks 

Inkjet printing has opened up the world of decorating edibles to a wide range of applications, including breads and tortillas, confectionery, beverages and even pet treats. The challenge with digital printing for edibles is that there is limited crossover between the food and inkjet industries, and as such, solutions need to be integrated.  

Sensient has extensive experience in providing food colorants and digital inks that are manufactured in FDA- and GMP-certified facilities, for the food and pharmaceutical industries. To discover more about our expertise and food-safe digital ink solutions, get in touch with the Sensient team today .