Is there any special maintenance required in order to maintain food safety and keep the printer operating correctly?

For example, do I need to manually clean the print head periodically to prevent clogging or bacterial growth?

Also, how concerned should I be about bacterial growth in edible ink cartridges with sponges vs. those without sponges?

Everything I've found regarding mold and bacteria in edible ink printing seems to be vendor-promoted propaganda centered on the cartridges and ink themselves, and seem to reference examples of bacteria in kitchen sponges rather than in inkjet sponges. They do not mention mold or bacterial growth on the print head or in the printer's built-in sponge, each of which has a longer service life than an ink cartridge.

One edible ink vendor has a nice maintenance guide which somewhat addresses my question as it pertains to clogging, and it claims an average of 8 months for a print head's service life when used with edible ink. However, it focuses only on functional concerns and ignores the topic of mold/bacteria. Also, some of the other information in the document contradicts other online information about edible printing so I'm unsure about the validity of the document as a whole.

  • edible ink?! To Google! – Keltari Mar 3 '14 at 23:35
  • For anyone not familiar with edible ink printing, the concept basically involves using an inkjet printer to print on a thin frosting sheet (or rice paper), using food coloring instead of "normal" ink. Many bakeries use edible ink printing to put photographic images on cakes. If you ever use normal ink in the printer, the printer is considered tainted and should no longer be used for edible printing. – rob Mar 3 '14 at 23:49
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    I suppose this is entirely on topic, even if its in the awesome but wierd confluence between seasoned advice and superuser but wouldn't the ink vendor be the best person to ask these sort of things? – Journeyman Geek Mar 3 '14 at 23:57
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    @JourneymanGeek ink vendors provide conflicting information. Spongeless cartridge vendors seem to be using scare tactics and reference resources that show mold/bacteria on kitchen sponges, not inkjet sponges. Sponge-containing cartridge vendors claim their ink has mold/bacteria inhibitors. One vendor recommends using their $50 cleaning kit to clean the print head regularly/before storage. Some recommend using the printer driver's maintenance features, and others sell cleaning kits to unclog an already-clogged print head. Nothing on mold/bacteria in the print head or the printer's sponge. – rob Mar 4 '14 at 16:42
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    The "ink" probably has to be wet to print and that means that if it has any food value at all, stuff will grow on it. If it dries up very quickly, that would minimize the problem, but not eliminate it. You could always make a couple of agar plates with covers, scrape a sample from the print head and see what grows. There's some pretty nasty stuff in the air that could potentially cause a problem, but a microbiologist would be able to give you a better answer. – Joe Mar 10 '14 at 21:08

Personally, I would follow the ink vendor's recommendations on cleaning. According to their own website their product is clean and sterile, and as long as you follow their cleaning instructions you will probably be fine. While I have never used edible-ink, I have had experience working in the food-service industry, and surprisingly most of the 'rules' are common sense.

I would recommend wiping down the printer and the print head after it's last use that day with a mild detergent and a wet cloth, as the sugar WILL allow bacteria to grow, that said I don't recall reading (nor can I find) any studies that showed bacteria to grow solely in food-coloring. The fact is most food-colorings have zero nutritional value and cannot sustain life, their 'expiration' dates are more geared towards quality of color than health.

Unfortunately I could not find any guidelines on the FDA's website, however it should be noted that in general food-colorings (with the exception of a few synthetics) are generally unregulated by the govt. for the reason previously stated above.

If you know your local health departments information, you would be better off giving them a call to see what they recommend, if you're using this in a commercial setting then you NEED to contact your health dept. to see what regulations they have.

sources: my 5 years experience in the food-service industry

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