If you’re in the food service industry, you need to know what food-grade packaging is. There are a variety of materials to choose from for food packaging. Each packaging material has its advantages and disadvantages, so how is food-grade packaging different? Businesses in the food service industry need to re-evaluate their packaging to ensure it is suitable for use with food and understand the importance of food-grade packaging now that single-use plastic cutlery and plates are banned.

1. What does food grade mean in packaging?

Packaging designed to come into contact with food is known as food grade.  Food-grade packaging is manufactured and stored in a way that ensures it is safe and hygienic for use with food or beverages. The materials used to make food-grade packaging must be non-toxic so that harmful chemicals cannot leach into the food they protect. These materials need to meet industry standard benchmarks to ensure consumers are protected, so you might be surprised that not all packaging used for food is manufactured to this standard by default. 

Food Grade Packaging

2. What is the difference between food grade and food safety?

While the terms “food grade” and “food safe” are used somewhat interchangeably, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing:

Food grade refers to materials and products that are safe for contact with food. Packaging materials comply with certain government regulations and standards set by agencies such as the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA). These regulations ensure that materials and products are safe for use with edible products and that they are produced under strict guidelines and quality controls to ensure their safety.

Food safety, on the other hand, refers to materials and products that are safe to use with food and do not contaminate or affect the quality of the food in any way. This means the material or product does not contain harmful chemicals or toxins and does not leach any into the food. All food-grade materials and products are considered “food-safe,” but not all food-safe materials and products are necessarily “food-grade.”

3. How to tell whether the packaging is food grade?

According to official food hygiene standards, “food must be transported in packaging or containers that protect it from contamination.” Since not all food packaging is food grade or food safe, how do you determine if your packaging is safe to use?

There are several simple ways to tell:

1) Food safety signs

Food contact materials, including packaging, are sometimes marked with a “For Food Contact” or food safety symbol. This is an internationally recognized symbol that indicates a material is considered safe for food contact.

2) BRCGS certification

Food packaging suppliers that comply with other Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards (such as BRCGS or IFS) will meet additional requirements for material safety verification.

Our warehousing facility has an AA rating certified by BRCGS (Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standard). This rating means our stock is stored in warehouses that must maintain high food safety standards. Restaurants, supermarkets, and other large retailers view BRCGS certification as proof that appropriate food safety measures are in place. 

How to tell whether the packaging is food grade?

4. How food-grade packaging ensures the safety of your food

Have you ever wondered what food-grade packaging is? If yes, then you are not alone. Many people are often unsure whether the box or container they purchase is safe for their food. That’s why it’s important to understand the definition. let’s see.

Packaging that is food grade refers to packaging that is safe for food.  This means that the materials used to make the packaging are free of harmful chemicals and residues that could contaminate food. To be classified as food-safe, packaging must meet certain standards. These standards are set by regulatory agencies such as the FDA and EPA.

To ensure the safety of your food packaging, working with a certified food packaging company like Hopakpackaging is a must. They will produce all of your food packaging in a food safety-certified facility using state-of-the-art machinery specifically designed for food packaging.

5. Benefits of food-grade packaging for your products

Using food-grade packaging is not just a matter of compliance. There are many other advantages to using packaging that is safe for food use:

1) Food safety

Food-grade packaging protects food from contamination and maintains freshness. Food-grade materials help ensure food is safe to eat by protecting it from external factors such as light, oxygen, moisture, and temperature changes. 

2) Quality preservation

Food-grade packaging not only prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, making food safe to eat but also helps maintain the appearance, flavor, and nutritional value of food.

3) Comply with regulations

Businesses supplying food and drink require food-grade packaging to comply with various regulations and guidelines, such as those set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). This ensures that the food is suitable for human consumption, whether sold in supermarkets or on food stalls.

4) Environmental protection

Food-grade packaging also has environmentally friendly features. It helps prevent food waste by keeping food fresher for longer, but it’s primarily made from eco-friendly materials like bioplastics, kraft, cardboard, and paper, as well as other plant-based materials like bagasse.

Benefits of food-grade packaging for your products

5) Brand Reputation

Using food-grade packaging can help safeguard your reputation by maintaining high standards of food safety and professional presentation. You can use food hygiene ratings to promote your business, and building a reputation for providing safe, high-quality food and packaging can increase customer loyalty and sales.

6. Examples of food-safe packaging materials

Food packaging standards must be followed to ensure customer safety when using food containers and cutlery. The good news is that there are several different materials that can be considered food grade, pending carefully managed manufacturing, testing, and certification.

1) Cardboard kraft cardboard

Cardboard is one of the most popular food-grade packaging materials. It’s strong, lightweight and versatile. Since it is made from natural resources, it is inherently recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable. This makes both materials ideal for making food-grade pizza boxes, which we line with virgin kraft paper for added resistance to oil, grease, and moisture. Additionally, kraft paper can be formed into a variety of packaging products, such as kraft food trays, noodle boxes, and dessert packaging.

2) Kraft paper

Kraft paper has a wide range of applications in the food service sector. It’s recyclable and naturally biodegradable, making it perfect for use with takeaway food. It is made from wood pulp and can also be composted domestically and commercially. Check out our paper bags and specialist eco-friendly greaseproof papers to see kraft paper in action. Each can be custom printed with water or vegetable inks to showcase your brand without harming the environment.

3) Slag

Bagasse is a by-product of sugar cane production, making it a natural, renewable, and biodegradable material. Durable and versatile, it is a highly effective alternative to banned polystyrene food packaging. Because bagasse is made from natural, non-toxic materials, it is considered safe for food contact – our bagasse is certified food grade. Our bagasse flip-top containers are perfect for keeping hot foods warm and fresh. Bagasse trays and bowls are also great for serving hot and cold foods.

food-grade packaging

4) Plastic

Plastic has long been a popular material for food packaging, so much so that approximately 60% of all plastic produced globally is used to package food. It’s lightweight, durable, and cheap. In addition, it can be molded into various packaging products. For example, I have a friend. He’s a retort pouch manufacturer. His retort pouches are made of food-grade plastic. It’s microwavable and comes with a lid that prevents spoilage and contamination, keeping food fresher longer. However, there are many disadvantages to using certain plastic packaging.

5) Metal

Aluminum and stainless steel are the most commonly used metals in food packaging. Takeaway food companies make extensive use of aluminum foil trays to hold a variety of hot food products. While they are effective at retaining heat, they are relatively expensive and are not always considered food grade, so be careful when purchasing metal food packaging. Food-grade packaging alternatives include kraft paper food boxes.

6) Glass

Glass is durable, reusable, and recyclable. It is also easy to clean, making it ideal for maximum food hygiene. It is considered food-safe and is often used with beverages, but it is much more expensive than other forms of packaging and can break easily. Therefore, it is not the best form of takeout packaging. Glass food packaging is best suited for storing food or beverages in a controlled environment, such as at home. More portable food-grade alternatives include bioplastic cups.

7. Top 5 FDA-approved food-grade plastics

Plastic food packaging is critical to maintaining product freshness and quality during transportation, extending shelf life, and meeting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Plastics that come into contact with consumer products must comply with FDA regulations and use materials guaranteed to be safe for use in plastic food packaging. This helps ensure consumer safety and protects your business from inadvertent breaches of food safety laws.

When it comes to food safety, it’s best to stay safe. Design teams working in the food and beverage industry should know what the best food-safe plastic materials are to ensure products are safe for consumers. Here’s everything you need to know about the top five FDA-approved food contact plastics.

FDA-approved food-grade plastics

1) Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

ABS is an amorphous plastic made from a blend of acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene polymers. ABS is a food-grade plastic that is safe for use in food processing tools such as food processors and refrigerator liners. Excellent resistance to strain and abrasion, impact resistance at low temperatures, and insulating properties make ABS also well suited for food transport applications. This food-safe plastic is so flexible that it can be easily welded into complex shapes, adding to its manufacturing versatility.

Parts made from ABS are beautiful and can withstand applications in non-extreme temperatures well. However, due to the poor weather resistance and solvent resistance of ABS, ABS parts are also prone to stress cracking.

2) High-density polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is a thermoplastic commonly used in milk jugs, plastic water bottles, cutting boards, cereal box liners, grocery bags, and other plastic food packaging. HDPE’s tensile strength, high impact resistance, and melting point, as well as its large strength-to-density ratio, make it ideal for food and beverage packaging. Additionally, HDPE is a non-porous polymer, allowing the product team to create parts that are durable and easy to clean without requiring additional maintenance.

While HDPE does resist mold, mildew, and insects, it is less weather-resistant than other materials on this list and is not resistant to oxidizing acids. HDPE is also highly flammable, prone to stress cracking, and is not biodegradable. Additionally, HDPE is difficult to bond to other food-grade plastics, which limits design and engineering capabilities.

Despite these limitations, HDPE remains an excellent choice for manufacturing FDA-approved plastic food containers. For example, HDPE’s high heat resistance makes it dishwasher safe—an excellent feature for food packaging. Additionally, HDPE is non-leaching, meaning disinfectants can clean it quickly but dissolve in time for safe human interaction. Because HDPE is resistant to most chemical solvents, it prevents harsh chemicals from interacting with food and beverages.

3) Polyetheretherketone (PEEK)

PEEK is a lightweight and strong semi-crystalline thermoplastic. PEEK has high dimensional stability due to its high melting point and low coefficient of thermal expansion. Therefore, PEEK food handling products can withstand the high temperatures of microwave use, dishwasher use, and direct heat cooking.

Even during production, PEEK is safe for direct contact with delicate foods such as lettuce or fresh dairy products. Therefore, PEEK food handling components are used in both food packaging and food production processes. PEEK resin is commonly used in blenders, kneaders, mixing paddles, and scrapers, as well as valves and nozzles for coffee machines.

PEEK outperforms other food-safe plastics in terms of design flexibility. Colorants can be added to PEEK during the manufacturing process to make it brightly colored, thereby improving process safety, as PEEK parts that are broken or damaged during production will be immediately noticeable. This helps prevent the consumption of hazardous food and beverages and accidental contamination.

4) Acrylic (Acrylic)

PMMA is a clear plastic that is incredibly strong and stiff, as well as optically clear. This transparency allows advanced vision systems or employees performing physical visual inspections to easily analyze and monitor food quality throughout the transportation process.

PMMA is commonly used to store milk and other dairy products, oils, and animal feed. Acrylic is also used to make mixing bowls and its transparency aids in mixing and other cooking process applications. PMMA is BPA-free, non-toxic in the solid state, and has good biocompatibility, so acrylic resin is often used for dentures and cavity fillings.

Limitations of acrylic include poor impact resistance, limited heat resistance, weak resistance to attack by organic solvents, and susceptibility to cracking under pressure due to poor protection against abrasion and abrasion. When choosing whether to use PMMA for food and beverage packaging, it is important to consider these disadvantages.

FDA-approved food-grade plastics

5) Polypropylene (PP)

PP is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic made by polymerizing propylene. PP is lightweight and moldable, yet still very strong, making it an excellent FDA food-grade plastic. It also has a high melting point (dishwasher and microwave-safe), low water absorption, and excellent chemical resistance.

Polypropylene can be translucent or opaque and match any color. Design teams will have countless opportunities to experiment with aesthetics using this material. Colored PP food ingredients can also improve process safety and help teams adhere to food safety best practices.

Although polypropylene has a high melting point, it is highly flammable and prone to thermal expansion. These characteristics limit its high-temperature applications. PP is also susceptible to damage from UV degradation, oxidation, and chlorinated solvents. Its poor adhesive properties can also limit manufacturing opportunities, so be sure to consider this during the design and material selection process.

8. Conclusion

Food-grade packaging keeps your customers safe while protecting your business and the environment. At Hopakpackaging, we have a variety of packaging solutions for you to choose from. Please contact us for more information.

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