Phthalate and PVC Free – The Future of Beer Tubing
PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a popular tubing material used in wide variety of applications including beer transfer. It’s clear, flexible, abrasion and corrosion resistant, chemical resistant, and relatively low cost. Depending on the PVC compound, the finished tubing may be listed by NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) and meet other standards for food safety, giving you assurance that it’s a suitable product to run your beer through.
But PVC has its drawbacks. PVC tubing production often involves phthalates, chemicals used to make the material easy to process into clear, flexible plastic tubing. And unfortunately, phthalates are not without risk. DEHP (Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) is a common phthalate found in some formulations of PVC tubing, and studies indicate that DEHP and other phthalates may have a negative health impact. Laboratory animal testing has shown adverse effects to kidneys, livers and fertility, although extensive testing on humans has not been conducted.1
Over time, DEHP can leach out of tubing. Repeated use, heating, and/or cleaning of the tubing can speed up the leaching. PVC tubing can also, over time, begin to break down, lose flexibility and develop micro fissures, leading to biofilm buildup and places for beer spoilers to hide. In fact, in its Draught Beer Quality Manual, Fourth Edition, page 10, the Brewers Association recommends replacing vinyl tubing in beer dispensing systems with the next generation of flexible, PVC-free polymers with barrier properties.
The variety of ingredients used to formulate standard PVC tubing can also taint the taste of beverages when these chemicals enter the fluid flow. That’s something neither a brewer nor a beer drinker wants.
The seemingly simple solution is to remove the phthalates, but that’s challenging for tubing manufacturers. To be considered phthalate free, the tubing must contain less than .1% or 1,000 ppm of DEHP. Third party testing for this costs thousands of dollars. Manufacturers who extrude both phthalate-free tubing and tubing that contains phthalates must invest in dedicated equipment for phthalate-free tubing to keep traces of the phthalate out of the extrusion process and the finished product. Tubing extrusion equipment costs tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
Despite these challenges, several manufacturers have developed PVC tubing that does not contain phthalates. Beer drinkers, however, have discerning taste, and many feel that even phthalate-free PVC tubing lends an off-taste to beer.
So, what’s a beer-serving establishment to do?
Consider alternative tubing materials. Tubing made from materials such as ether-based polyurethane, thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and silicone is naturally flexible – there’s no need for phthalates during production.
Depending on the manufacturer, polyurethane tubing advantages may include:
- Barrier properties that protect beer from oxygen and CO2 ingress/egress
- NSF-61 listed for use with potable water
- Fungi resistant
- Temperature range: -85°F to 175°F
- Made from non-toxic raw materials conforming to FDA standards
- Temperature range: -88°F to 275°F
- Made from FDA-approved ingredients
- Meets various high purity standards including those for the biopharmaceutical industry
- Extreme flexibility
- NSF-51 listed for use with food equipment materials
- 3-A Sanitary Standards conformity
- Temperature range: -100°F to 500°F (maximum of 350°F in NSF applications)
- Odorless and tasteless
Determining whether to switch to phthalate free and/or PVC free beer line involves many considerations including cost, health concerns, and beverage taste. Examine the options carefully and use your tubing supplier’s knowledge to help make an informed and practical decision.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=376&tid=65 and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html