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What is food grade packaging? 

Restaurant owners around the world can expect up to 2.64 billion users of online food delivery services by 2027, according to recent research. This will require business owners to decide how to package meals for safe, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing delivery to consumers. 

Food grade packaging refers to materials that are certified as safe for use when they come into direct contact with food. Essentially, the materials used to make the packaging are free from harmful chemicals or residues that could contaminate the food. 

That said, food grade packaging has to meet certain standards to be classified as safe. As all operators in the food space have a duty to ensure the safety of the food they provide, understanding food grade packaging is vital.

How is food grade packaging designated?

Food grade packaging materials need to meet certain government regulations and standards set by agencies such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK. 

These regulations ensure the materials and products are safe for use with edible products. Additionally, they ensure these materials are manufactured under strict guidelines and quality controls to ensure their safety.

Within the US, the FDA is primarily responsible for determining the standards for packaging and what makes it food-safe. Notably, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was updated in 1958 to reflect this. The administration regulates any containers or substances that come into direct contact with food. This can be packaging, or items such as spatulas, whisks, and any other tools that may touch food during the cooking process. 

The FDA has a full list of banned materials that may not be used in food packaging. Beyond this, the association also has certain standards on chemicals and other substances that are involved in creating food grade packaging. 

Usually, it is these resources and regulations that packaging manufacturers will use as a guide when food grade items. In order to be FDA compliant, a food grade material needs to meet certain standard criteria. This includes ensuring the packaging is made from materials that are used within the recommended and safe temperature range. 

Different packaging materials will break down when introduced to a certain temperature. This information is vital to not only packaging manufacturers but also business owners, as it will determine which forms of takeout containers they choose to invest in.

The next point of concern about food grade materials is how they interact with the food itself. For instance, takeaway packaging is likely to come into contact with acidic foods, fatty foods, and all sorts of different chemical makeups from natural ingredients. Therefore, it must be able to contain these substances without breaking down. 

Finally, the materials must physically hold up to the environment and the manner in which they will be used. 

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Understanding food grade vs food safe 

The terms “food grade” and “food safe” are often used interchangeably. However, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. 

“Food grade”, for instance, focuses on the material’s ability to come into contact with food in its current state. If a material is ‘food grade” it is suitable to come into direct contact with food. 

Alternatively, “food safe” means the food grade material and the finished product are suitable for its intended use and will not create a food safety hazard. The key difference here is regarding materials and finished products.

Essentially, all food-grade materials and products are considered “food-safe”, but not all food-safe materials and products are necessarily “food-grade”.

Food safe designates the ideal temperature range of the food that it can be used with. Additionally, it determines the types of food that can be stored, the cleaners that can be used on it, and other specifications that ensure that packaging remains safe to use. 

When looking into food grade packaging, business owners must fully understand the manufacturer’s rules regarding how that packaging must be used. This will help ensure the integrity of that packaging in regards to being food grade. 

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Why food grade packaging is important

Over the last few years, the number of food delivery services has increased tremendously. Notably, the US saw a 58% increase in the use of food delivery services between 2020 to 2021. In order to succeed in the industry, restaurants must ensure meals are delivered to customers safely. 

That said, once the meal has left the restaurant, that can be difficult to control. Variables include whether the restaurant is using a third-party delivery service, as well as the construction and material of its food delivery boxes and how the food is presented inside.  

Food grade packaging is vital for a number of reasons. First, it ensures no hazardous components touch the food. Second, food grade packaging helps ensure the flavour of the meal is unaffected, and the appearance remains the same throughout delivery. 

Third, it keeps customers safe while ensuring the meal remains intact during the delivery process. The regulations and standards behind manufacturing food grade packaging ensure consumers can enjoy their meals with peace of mind. 

In addition to how the food is presented, the way in which it is packaged will be a critical aspect of a restaurant’s delivery services. Packaging must be designed to meet food specifications, which include maintaining food quality and temperature, and it must be spill and leak-proof. 

Leaks or spills during transport can contaminate other food in the same bag or put the customer and delivery personnel at risk. Therefore, it is essential that a restaurant’s food delivery boxes are properly sealed and secured. 

Food grade packaging often also ticks the box when it comes to sustainability. Materials made from natural resources, such as paper, cardboard, and bioplastics, contain minimal chemicals – making them an ideal choice for takeaway food packaging. 

Consumers are demanding that business operators keep sustainability top of mind. Therefore, it can benefit restaurants to ensure their takeaway packaging is recyclable or compostable. These factors usually tie in with the general safety awarded to food grade packaging. 

As we have reached an age where more and more food is made to be packaged on the go, restaurant owners must be aware of what kinds of packaging they are using to deliver meals to consumers. By investing in certified food grade packaging, they can ensure the safety of their guests while also holding the highest integrity for the product.