Cat Litter Buckets. Are They Safe For Food Storage?

Introduction

Cat litter buckets are plastic buckets that cat litter often comes packaged in. They are sturdy buckets with sealed lids that typically hold between 10-40 pounds of cat litter. After the cat litter is used up, many cat owners repurpose these buckets for other uses instead of throwing them away.

When repurposing any container to hold food, an important consideration is whether the container is made from food grade materials. Food grade means the materials are safe for direct contact with food products. This is critical when using containers for food storage or serving. Plastics not designed for food use may leach chemicals into the food, especially when exposed to heat or fatty foods.

Materials Used

Cat litter buckets are most commonly made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) plastic. According to Oak Hill Homestead (source), these plastics are food-safe, durable, and recyclable.

HDPE is a versatile plastic known for its high strength-to-density ratio, making it ideal for products like milk jugs, detergent bottles, and cat litter buckets that need to be sturdy. It is resistant to acids, bases, and solvents. HDPE is considered a food-safe plastic when manufactured under GMP conditions using virgin resin only. It does not contain bisphenol A (BPA).

Polypropylene (PP) is known for its high heat resistance compared to other plastics. It also has good chemical resistance and electrical insulating properties. Like HDPE, PP is a food-safe plastic when following GMP protocols. It has good fatigue and impact resistance.

Manufacturing Process

Cat litter buckets are made from food-grade plastic through an injection molding process. The plastic pellets are fed into a hopper and then melted at high temperatures. The melted plastic is then injected at high pressure into a metal mold in the shape of the bucket. Once cooled and hardened, the bucket is ejected from the mold.

Manufacturers follow strict quality control standards throughout the process. The plastic pellets are tested to ensure they meet FDA requirements for food contact. The molds are precision-made to produce uniform buckets within tight tolerances. All surfaces that come in contact with the plastic are thoroughly cleaned between production runs. Samples from each batch are inspected and tested to confirm the integrity of the buckets.

Some key standards related to food safety include compliance with FDA regulations for plastic resins and additives, sanitary equipment design, hygienic facility conditions, and employee training. Proper manufacturing and quality control ensures that cat litter buckets meet standards for direct food contact.

For example: https://www.instructables.com/Cat-Litter-Bucket-to-Worm-Compost-Factory-Unit/

Grade Markings

Cat litter buckets are often made from plastic like HDPE (high-density polyethylene) or PP (polypropylene). These plastics will be marked with grade codes that indicate if they are food safe.

The main food grade markings to look for are:

  • Number 2 HDPE – This means high density polyethylene plastic which is commonly used for food buckets. According to Wikihow, the number 2 inside the recycling symbol indicates it is food grade.
  • Number 5 PP- This polypropylene plastic is also food safe. The number 5 recycling code marks PP plastic.

Plastics without these grade codes may not be food safe, especially the number 7 category which is a mix of plastics. Always look for HDPE and PP grade markings to ensure cat litter buckets are food grade.

FDA Standards

The FDA regulates plastic materials that come into contact with food to ensure they are safe for their intended use. The main regulations for plastics used in food contact applications are Title 21 CFR 177 – Indirect Food Additives: Polymers and 21 CFR 174 – Indirect Food Additives: Adhesives and Components of Coatings.

These regulations specify the types of plastics permitted, the conditions of use, and any limitations. Some common plastics approved by the FDA for food contact include:

  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)

Cat litter buckets are commonly made from HDPE or PP plastic. Both of these plastic resins are FDA-approved for food contact when used under the proper conditions outlined in the CFR regulations. This means that cat litter buckets made from HDPE or PP can be considered food-grade plastics meeting FDA standards.

The exact formulation of the plastic is also important. The regulations permit the use of certain additives but prohibit others. Manufacturers of cat litter buckets must use only FDA-approved additives at approved concentrations.

In summary, cat litter buckets made from the right formulation of HDPE or PP plastic can comply with FDA food contact regulations. Consumers should check for an FDA-compliant status indicator to confirm the buckets meet the safety standards.

Other Certifications

In addition to FDA compliance, some plastic manufacturers may obtain other certifications related to food safety, such as:

NSF International certification – NSF International is an independent, third-party testing organization that tests and certifies products to verify they meet public health and safety standards. NSF certification is widely recognized in the food industry. Products that carry the NSF mark have undergone testing and inspection to confirm they comply with NSF food equipment standards.

LFGB certification – LFGB stands for Lebensmittel-, Bedarfsgegenstände- und Futtermittelgesetzbuch, which is the German Food and Feed Code. The LFGB mark certifies that products comply with German regulations for materials that come into contact with food. LFGB certification may be required for products sold in Germany and the EU.

REACH compliance – REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) is an EU regulation that addresses manufacturing and use of chemical substances. Plastic manufacturers may state their products comply with REACH requirements, meaning the substances have been registered and approved for the intended use.

These additional standards and regulations help provide further assurance about the safety of plastics used for food contact and food processing applications.

Common Concerns

Some common concerns people have about reusing cat litter buckets for food storage include:

Odors – Cat litter can leave behind strong odors in the plastic that could transfer to food stored inside. Thoroughly cleaning buckets with soap and water or a vinegar solution helps remove odors.

Chemical leaching – There is a concern that chemicals from cat litter could leach into food over time. However, most cat litters are non-toxic and buckets only contain litter residue. Properly cleaned buckets should not transfer chemicals.

Dust/particles – Cat litter often leaves behind dust that can stick to the bucket. Make sure to fully wash and rinse buckets so no visible dust remains before using for food.

Label removal – Cat litter labels can be difficult to fully remove. Make sure adhesive and label fragments are scrubbed away so they don’t end up in food.

These concerns are valid but can be addressed by properly cleaning and preparing cat litter buckets before reuse. As long as they are thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed, the small amounts of cat litter residue remaining should not make the buckets unsafe for food storage.

Proper Cleaning

It’s important to properly clean and sanitize cat litter buckets before using them to store food. Even though they are technically food-grade plastic, buckets can pick up bacteria, chemicals, and odors during the manufacturing and transportation process.

The FDA recommends a thorough wash with hot water and soap, followed by a sanitizing rinse (Sunwest, 2021). Mix 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water and swish the sanitizing solution along the sides and bottom. Let sit for 2 minutes before thoroughly rinsing and air drying upside down.

Alternatively, you can sanitize with a vinegar solution – mix 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water (Cooking Stack Exchange, 2020). The acetic acid in vinegar kills bacteria, viruses, and molds. After sanitizing, rinse thoroughly with clean water.

It’s also recommended to wash hands thoroughly after cleaning the bucket and before handling any food that will go into the container (Ask a Prepper, 2022). Following these cleaning guidelines will help ensure plastic buckets are safe for food storage and preparation.

Example Uses

Cat litter buckets can be repurposed for various food uses if properly cleaned. Here are some creative ways these buckets have been reused for food purposes:

Storing dry bulk foods like rice, flour, sugar, etc. The sealable lids keep food fresh and pest-free. The buckets are also handy for transporting bulk foods when camping or to community events. (Source)

Making large batches of homemade ice cream, yogurt or cheese. The food-grade plastic won’t contaminate the food and the bucket shape is ideal for churning and processing. Some people use them as molds for large gelatin desserts too. (Source)

Storing drinking water or non-alcoholic beverages. The sealed bucket keeps water clean for emergency preparedness. The tap at the bottom allows easy dispensing. Keep in mind only FDA food-grade marked buckets should be used for potable liquids. (Source)

Feeding livestock or pets. After a thorough wash, buckets can hold animal feeds, supplements, treats, etc. Some people cut holes in the sides to make self-feeding troughs. Lids keep contents fresher.

Transporting garden produce like berries or freshly picked eggs. The sturdy buckets with lids protect fragile produce and keep it clean. Some people display produce at farmers markets in clean reused buckets.

Conclusion

To summarize, cat litter buckets can be food grade but it depends on the specific bucket. Buckets are made from various materials like plastic or metal, and food grade buckets are carefully manufactured to avoid contamination. They need to meet FDA and other safety standards. Common grade markings to look for are HDPE #2 for plastic buckets and grade 316 for stainless steel. However, not all buckets have clear grade identification so proper cleaning is critical before reuse. While cat litter itself is non-toxic, the buckets could collect germs, chemicals or odors. With careful inspection and cleaning, cat litter buckets can potentially be reused for non-alcoholic and non-acidic foods. But specialty food buckets with GMP manufacturing are safest for direct food contact. In conclusion, some cat litter buckets can technically be considered food grade but extra precautions are needed compared to buckets made for food.

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