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What are the requirements for food grade packaging?

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 means are delivered to customers safely, and this is where food grade packaging comes into play. 

Essentially, food grade packaging refers to materials that can come into direct contact with food. As a food operator, it is essential to understand what “food grade” means and what requirements the packaging needs to be certified as such. 

The food industry has heavy regulations on the type of packaging that can and cannot come into contact with food, and for good reason. Seeing as food and drink are ingested, any harmful toxins or unsafe contaminants from packaging can have disastrous effects on consumers. 

So, what should restaurant owners look for when investing in food grade packaging for takeaway orders? 

The criteria for food grade packaging

The most basic criteria for food grade packaging is that it needs to be non-toxic and safe to come into contact with products that will be consumed. Some examples include takeaway coffee cups, pizza boxes, and various takeout containers, as well as any other packaging that may be used to contain food and drinks. 

Therefore, food grade packaging materials must be rigorously tested. Additionally, manufacturers must share how the packaging should be used. For example, if the packaging material breaks down under increased temperatures, it is unsuitable for hot foods and beverages. 

The Food and Drug Association (FDA) in the US determines food grade packaging based on a set of criteria. The association offers several resources dedicated to its expectations for food grade materials, banned substances, and other relevant information that packaging manufacturers and food business owners must abide by. 

The FDA website breaks down not only expectations for food safety but also environmental impact and all other concerns and regulations related to the packaging of food.

Within your own business, there are many ways to identify how to get reliable, certified food grade packaging. For instance, a HACCP plan will dictate the risk associated with suppliers of food grade packaging. Food grade materials also fall under GMPs, or Good Manufacturing Practices, especially in food manufacturing. 

Being able to identify where food contact will happen, and with what materials, falls on the shoulders of the business owner and management team. Failure to adhere to the standards of food safety can cause customer health risks. 

Beyond this, it can result in negative customer experiences, and cost the business money and product.

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Certifications on food grade packaging: What to look for

Notably, there are several certifications to look for when investing in food packaging. 

These are some of the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certifications you can expect to see on food packaging labels. 

BRCGS Certification

The BRCGS certification is a globally recognised certification that covers not only food packaging manufacturing but also food and ingredient manufacturing, gluten-free manufacturing and storage, and logistics of products. 

This certification shows the packaging was made within food safety standards and meets criteria that are recognised on a global level. 

IFS Certification

Another global certification, the International Featured Standard (IFS) certification focuses both on food packaging and consumer product packaging. The standards of this criteria look at product sourcing and criteria, packaging manufacturing, production process, and food defence. 

It is a worthwhile certification that offers an extra layer of security to ensure the validity of food grade packaging claims.

NSF vs. FDA

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) offers these certifications and more based on the packaging you are creating for food. The NSF follows all compliance with the FDA, so certifications from them are well known and respected industry-wide. 

While these certifications are vital in showing safety, the certification and logo mentioned below from the FDA designating “food grade” status is the ultimate certification to look for on packaging. 

There are more NSF certifications to look into, but just know that FDA is the required level of food grade compliance. Alternatively, NSF compliance shows you are going the extra mile to meet safe guidelines for your food products, processes, and packaging.

FDA Food Grade Logo

The international food grade logo is a picture of a glass and a fork next to each other. If any of your packaging conveys this logo, it is designated to be safe to come in contact with food. 

That said, you will still need to follow all protocols and functions determined by the packaging manufacturer to keep the materials from becoming harmful. However, this logo guarantees the minimum that the packaging can be used and can come into contact with food products without worry of contamination.

Another governing body that will set the standard for food grade packaging is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA will help dictate the waste associated with the packaging and any harmful materials that would not only harm the environment but customers as well. 

As the agency helps with the criteria to be food grade, a separate symbol is not necessarily needed. But, it is important to know that they also play a role in what would be considered food grade packaging. 

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Final takeaway

Food grade packaging is widely available and ‌easy to find. There should be no excuse for not being able to find it, as the symbol for it is clear and it is generally widely accessible in some form. 

Beyond keeping your guests safe, food grade packaging is ideal for keeping your food at the highest quality for customers when used in its intended manner. Using the information above, you can begin to be an informed operator in the food space. 

Your customers put their trust and health in your hands when you serve them a meal. By purchasing food grade packaging and understanding its limitations, you are giving your customers confidence while offering the best product possible.