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Understanding the difference between food grade packaging and food safe packaging

There are a variety of different packaging mediums available to modern-day consumers, especially when it comes to food. That said, it’s difficult to pick the right applications to ensure food is delivered safely and at its desired temperature and flavour. 

More so, the terms “food grade” and “food safe” are often used interchangeably. However, they don’t mean the same thing. Essentially, all food-grade materials and products are considered “food safe”, but not all food safe materials and products are necessarily “food grade”.

So, what are the differences between “food grade” packaging and that labelled as “food safe”? And what certifications should restaurant owners look for to ensure quality and safety?

Food grade versus food safe

Food-grade refers to a type of packaging material that is safe to come into contact with food. The term can be applied to tools in kitchens, machines in food manufacturing, and any other item that touches food within a food service setting. 

The materials are guaranteed to be free of any harmful chemicals. Furthermore, no residual products will contaminate the food. It is important to remember that the materials in the product are safe to be in contact with food and pose no hazards for their intended use.

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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Examples of food grade packaging and other items

Food-grade packaging and food-grade materials are simply items that are safe to come into contact with food. In a kitchen setting, there are several that are considered food grade: 

Food grade items 

  • Cutting board 
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cooking utensils
  • Hotel pans 

Food-Safe Packaging

  • Pizza boxes
  • Soup containers
  • Takeout boxes
  • Paper salad boxes
  • French fry cartons
  • Temperature-safe deli containers
  • Deli containers
  • Plastic wrap
  • Storage bags

Understanding food grade packaging standards 

A label that states an item is food grade ensures the materials involved do not contain harmful toxins or substances that will leach into the food. Furthermore, the material should not chip, present a physical hazard, or cause harm to customers through any other source of contamination.

The material for food-grade standards should also be easy to clean and should not offer any way to hold on to bacteria that could in turn make customers ill. While ensuring the above criteria are met is the job of manufacturers of food-grade products, it is up to restaurant owners to choose the correct materials. 

Therefore, knowing what constitutes food-grade is required to ensure businesses are compliant in keeping customers safe. 

For food-safe packaging, the details on what the container needs to have are a little more specific. As a base, the packaging does need to be food-grade. Additionally, the temperature parameters for each food-safe package need to be understood and met. 

For example, if a packaging container is unable to withstand temperatures above 140°F (60°C), it cannot contain any hot foods or liquids. If it is used in such a way, it is no longer considered food-safe. 

In addition, the duration of which hot meals can be stored within the packaging must also be considered. This is because, over time, packaging may become weaker due to accumulated moisture. Finally, knowing which chemicals can and cannot be used to clean the packaging is vital in ensuring business owners succeed with food-safe packaging. 

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Which logos and symbols to look for

To ensure packaging is food grade, there are certain logos and symbols restaurant owners can look for. The international symbol for “food grade” material is a wine glass and a fork symbol. The symbol indicates that the material used in the product is considered safe for food contact.

If this symbol is present on items in the kitchen or food packaging, then it is considered safe and good to use. That being said, it is still the restaurant owners’ responsibility to know the requirements that keep the material or packaging food safe. For instance, using criteria such as temperature limits and other examples shared above. 

All packaging that is food safe should have this symbol and also clear standards and guidelines in which it should be used to ensure customers are safe when consuming the meal. 

Food grade vs. food safe: Knowing the difference

As a food service operator, your customer’s safety should be a top priority. This should apply not only to food preparation but also to the packaging that your meals will be delivered in. 

Being able to choose the right packaging comes down to knowing how the product is intended to be used. For food grade standards, this simply means the product can come into contact with food without risk of contamination. 

For food safe products, this entails that food can be stored in this packaging safely as long as the criteria are met when being used. 

This is the major difference between food-grade packaging and food-safe packaging.

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.