Food packaging designs must not only adhere to stringent FDA food safety regulations, but they must also appeal to consumers in advertising and at the point of sale.
Designs should be attractive, durable, and easy to use, all while keeping to the letter of the FDA’s requirements for food-contact substances. People generally assume that the packages in which their food products arrive are safe – that they don’t affect the food contained within, and that they are safe for the environment by being biodegradable or recyclable.
Consumers are more interested in organic and less-processed food products than they used to be, and consequentially, packaging safety has attracted more consumer attention in recent years. Fortunately, it’s entirely possible for brands to fulfill all food packaging safety obligations while doing the job of on-the-shelf marketing and convincing consumers to place the items in their shopping carts.
Clean Labeling Extends to Include Clean Packaging
Consumers want “clean label” products, or products where ingredient lists are simple and understandable, containing as few preservatives and additives as possible. The concept of clean labeling is now extending to clean packaging so that the products within are kept safe, without the potential for harmful food packaging materials coming into contact with foods. The FDA regulates the safety of all the plastics used in food packaging and materials that come into contact with foods, and all approved products are listed in a comprehensive database. The food packaging designs that the average consumer encounters at their local supermarket consist of only a small subset of FDA-approved food packaging materials.
Types of Plastics Used in Food Packaging Design
The following table gives a brief overview of types of plastics used in food packaging designs, what they’re used for, and how easily recyclable they are.
|Number / Name||What It’s Used For||Recyclable?|
|#1 PETE or PET||Semi-rigid or rigid lightweight plastic commonly used for soft drinks, sports drinks, bottled water, ketchup, salad dressing, peanut butter containers, vegetable oil bottles.||Yes, in many locations|
|#2 HDPE||Hard, opaque, lightweight plastic used for milk containers, squeeze butter, vinegar, chocolate syrup, grocery bags.||Yes, in many locations|
|#3 PVC||Biologically and chemically resistant packaging for tamper-resistant OTC medications, shrink wrap, blister packaging.||Yes, in some locations|
|#4 LDPE||Low-density polyethylene is thin but has high heat resistance. Primarily used as film where heat sealing needed. Used in coffee can lids, bread bags, six-pack rings, fruit and vegetable bags.||Rigid versions (coffee can lids) recyclable in many locations. Films sometimes recyclable at local grocery stores|
|#5 Polypropylene (PP)||Stiff, but not brittle plastic that may be opaque, translucent, or colored. Suitable for microwavable foods since it has a high melting point. Often used in yogurt containers, cream cheese containers, prescription drug bottles.||Yes, in many locations|
|#6 Polystyrene (PS)||Foam or hard plastic, such as used in Styrofoam cups, plastic utensils, bakery trays, fast food containers, egg cartons.||Some items recyclable at grocery stores or local recycling centers|
|#7 “Other”||Plastic resin made with something other than the six types listed above. Often used for water cooler jugs, citrus juice bottles, cups, clamshell containers.||Yes, in some places|
Purity and Sustainability
Consumers don’t want the packaging containing their foods to undermine promises of contents being organic or additive-free. As a result, many brands are selecting container types and materials that minimize the risk of chemicals leaching into foods. In some cases, brands use glass jars rather than plastic, for example. Other brands are developing machinery that can clean waste packaging materials and crush them to prepare them for sale to recycling facilities. Some companies are even innovating and testing natural packaging solutions, including edible food packaging designs. Manufacturers are also continually striving to maintain food packaging safety while reducing the carbon footprint of their packaging, from manufacture to recovery and recycling.
Rare is the consumer who isn’t aware of recycling as a sustainability practice, and consumers increasingly look for food packaging designs that either contain recycled content, or that can be easily recycled after use. At the same time, brands are striving to develop newer, more sustainable designs that protect food, preserve packaging safety, and bring down the carbon footprint of the packaging. Want to keep up with the latest in food packaging design and safety? If so, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.