Food Cartoning Machine: Paramount Concerns for Food Safety
Cartoning machines are probably one the most installed kind of automation equipment among all the different packaging machines we know. And especially for the food industry where a majority of the products come in carton boxes as their secondary packaging.
As Packaging and Processing Machinery Association PPMA suggests, “Cartoning machines are used in all fast-moving consumer goods sectors but especially food, confectionery, tobacco, tea and coffee, etc.” 
Probably you are just a kinda consumer who randomly bumps into this article, or maybe you are a professional or procurement manager from a food manufacturing company,
understanding how packaging machines, and especially the cartoning machines we talk about here, should be designed and built so as to meet should meet Food Safe Serving Standards and be in compliance with some Regulations such as Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 that deals with Food Contact Materials or Commission Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006) that requires all manufacturing of FCMs must in compliance with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), and more others, is no doubt the OVERRIDING issue for your sake.
After all, no company would like to be penalized and punished for non-compliant packaging, nor a consumer would like to risk his or her health.
In this article, we give answers to:
WHAT MAKES A CARTONING MACHINE QUALIFIED FOR FOOD-SAFE SERVING
What is a Cartoning or Carton Packing Machine?
To start and go on with the topic here, we must know what is a cartoning machine.
According to the definition by PPMA, Processing and Packaging Machinery Association, in UK, cartoning machine or carton packing machine is a packaging system that can erect, load, and close cartons either in a semi-automatic or a fully automatic way. 
Contact to Food When Processed by a Cartoning Machine
To know which are those critical parts on a cartoner that have direct contact with the product or package of material, it is necessary to understand the working sequence of a cartoning machine.
Working Sequence Diagram of an End-Load Cartoning Machine
Supposing we are loading doypacks or bags of cereal into carton boxes. The steps where direct contact happens are:
- Packages are placed on the bucket conveyor
- The pushrod loads the packages
- Cartons have contact with the machine all along the process of erecting and along the transport path of lug chains.
The rest parts, such as the safety guard, machine’s surface, and so forth, may have no direct contacts with the food packages, however, should not be neglected in terms of food safety and construction with compliant materials.
Cartoning machines as secondary packaging machinery might be not as important as those primary packaging machines such as filling machines, pouch, and sachet packing machines, doypack packing machines, VFFS and HFFS, etc… still have to attach with sufficient importance in terms of food safe serving material and construction considering the environment at a food manufacturing and processing facility where residuals and food materials and smeared and spilled around.
What are Food Contact Materials (FCMs)?
FCMs or food contact materials refer to those surfaces, materials, and articles that have contact with the food, no matter during the process of production, processing, transport and storage, or serving,
These surfaces, materials and articles can be the packaging itself, of the packaging machine that processes the food, and any tools, devices and hardware involved. All of them are referred to as Food Contact Materials (FCMs) 
What are the Important FCMs for a Cartoning Machine?
Food products have contact with miscellaneous parts, surfaces, and components all along the procedure of packaging and processing automation.
For cartoning machine, the FCMs involved may include those of upstream processes (conveying and feed for example), the cartoning machine itself, and those downstream processes following the cartoning automation (outfeed conveyor, grouping, another packaging machine, i.e.).
In general, all FCMs involved in not only cartoning machines but also packaging machines should be:
- Corrosion resistant
- Ease for Cleanliness
Basically, it suggested using
- AISI SUS 304
- aluminum parts
- and polymer plastics
for building cartoning machines so as to meet the Food Safe Serving and Safe FCM standards.
Check FCMs with the Overall Construction
Whether it is a cartoning machine of Balcony Design or Drop-Through design, the foremost thing to check is that the construction is of AISI SUS 304 or better to be AISI SUS 316.
The reason here is all about the raion of Chromium for which AISI SUS 304 is considered to be the ideal material for safe food serving while AISI SUS 201 is vulnerable to corrosion and will cause hazardous elements that will lead to diseases, which is against the requirements of Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004 that materials should not release harmful levels of their constituents to affect food and food packaging.
SUS 201 vs. SUS304, Corrosion Test with Bleach
Some unethical packaging machine manufacturers would claim to use stainless steel 304 but in fact, it is 201. Those worse, they even use AISI A3 Carbon Steel and cover it with SUS 201, then claim that they use robust SUS 304.
If allowed, verify and take sufficient audit with your supplier, or in case you would like to check the machine installed at your site, use a test kit to verify the stainless steel used on your machine.
Surface-treated aluminum parts are also fine for that structures that do not like to have contact with food or not frequent contact. For those subject to frequent washing and sterilization activities, stainless steel is suggested.
Bucket Convey: First Point of Contact
Packages of material coming from upstream will have the first contact with the cartoning machine through the bucket conveyor.
A common approach is to use flat-top chains with some plastic blocks that space the path flow to contain the products.
Another approach is to use chains and install various plastic buckets on them to carry the products.
Aluminum is not suggested here which is better for those parts where food packages will have less frequent contact.
Timing belts with plastic lugs are fine but they are more suitable for machines without washdown requirements.
Check Protection Guard
In some circumstances and for the sake of food serving, it is better to use holed steel guard (perforated steel sheet) rather than the acrylic guard.
The reasons are that food materials smeared and spilled around may get stuck to acrylic guards and in the long term, there will be dirt and residuals that are difficult to clean. The acrylic guard is also vulnerable to some chemical materials and bleach.
Rather, for the convenience of sterilization and cleanliness, as well as for the purpose of washdown, some packaging machine manufacturers would apply perforated steel sheets as the safety guard.
This is a very typical solution to a washdown cartoner.
FCMs on Conveyors that Feeds the Cartoning Machine
Except that it is an Off-Line application, the cartoning machine is most likely connected with other machines through a series of conveyors for feed and discharge.
Conveyor belts options vary a lot in accordance with the materials used, there are basically the following of them:
- Flat Belt Conveyor
- Rubber Conveyor Belt
- MatTop Conveyor
In general, they are no more than thermoplastics, metal, rubber, fabric and leather.
Make sure to check with your manufacturer that the conveyor belt comes toward the cartoning machine with food-grade materials for its belt, as well as the construction of the construction. And if possible, ask for an FDA food grade certification.
In most cases, people would consider food-grade polymer, PU, PE, and food-grade PVC materials, and sometimes silicone.
Another factor to take into account is sanitary construction. That is to say, smart conveyors designed with quick-release features are better than the normal ones, in terms of maintenance, cleanliness, and the convenience of washdown.
At the End
The fact is that there are still more details to discuss in terms of how a cartoning machine is in compliance with food-safe serving standards. Anyway to put it in a word, never expect to receive a Syntegon alike cartoning machine at a cheap price as a cartoning machine by a random manufacturer on Alibaba.
Take avail of the tips here when buying your packaging machines and use them to check with your supplier to make sure the machine to be oredered are in compliance with relateive standards and can meet your expectation.
Food Manufacturing Companies now have better Choices of Cartoner
Recent technologies including servo motors, sophisticated programming, and motion control have allowed mechanical engineers to develop a new form of packaging machines without too many mechanical parts involved. Sounds incredible, no?
Bags of cereal, pizza, bunches of chocolate bars, etc., carton and box packaging in the food industry tend to be big and of large volume. This causes a problem when the food processing and manufacturing company wants to install a high-speed cartoning machine. That is t say, when the carton box is bigger, the engineer has to design the machine with a longer pitch, which will lead to a considerably stretched and expanded footprint of the machine.
However, ÉLITER Packaging Machinery is now able to get this problem solved with our next-generation cartoning machine, which is specifically designed to offer automated cartoning for the food industry. Click the poster below to find out more information!
What are the Food Cartoning Machines for You?
From entry-level horizontal end-load cartoner machine to high speed cartoning machines, at ÉLITER Packaging Machinery we have a full range of choices for your food cartoning needs.
DZH-120 Horizontal End-Load Cartoner
-  Cartoning Machines & Cartoners, Processing & Packaging Machinery Association (PPMA), https://www.ppma.co.uk/ppma/machinery-finder/machinery-explained/cartoning-machinery.html
-  Food Safety: Food Contact Materials, European Commission, https://food.ec.europa.eu/safety/chemical-safety/food-contact-materials_en