Recent headlines terrified fast food customers who were shocked to learn about the risks of polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs) leeching into their meals. These chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, thyroid problems, and pregnancy complications, are sometimes used to develop grease-repellent food packaging.
According to a recent study by a group of nonprofit scientists, academics and government researchers, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, over 30% of fast food packages may contain these harmful compounds. Everyone in foodservice should consider this a wake-up call. Does your food packaging contain potentially harmful chemicals that are leaching into your customers’ meals?
When the scientists who conducted the study contacted the 31 foodservice companies whose packaging was tested, only two responded. Even though both companies had PFCs in their packaging, according to the researchers, “one stated that they believed none of their food packaging contained fluorinated chemicals, and the other stated that they verified with their suppliers that their food packaging did not contain PFCs.”
Considering the big names on the list of companies who had their packaging tested – Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Starbucks and others – not knowing what goes into the packaging your food is served in is a major oversight. While fast food executives have a lot on their plates, it is troubling for these major brands, including Quiznos, Chipotle and Krispy Kreme, to be removed from this sort of information.
I’ve been working as a Production Director since the 1990s and a big part of my job involves working closely with clients to make sure that we’re bringing to life packaging designs that are reliable, eye-catching and, most importantly, safe. These five tips can protect you and your restaurant from accidentally endangering your most valuable asset – your customers.
1. Know your stuff
No one expects you to approach food packaging with a chemistry degree and a mass spectrometer, but it’s important that you know enough to ask the right questions. What are the latest government regulations on food packaging? Which once-common packaging materials have fallen out of favor in the last few years?
The FDA classifies take-out packaging as Food Contact Substances (FCS) and the administration has very clear processes in place for ensuring that your packaging is up to code. While it’s legally the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that FCSs comply with regulations, remember that if there’s something wrong with your foodservice packaging, customers are going to remember your name, not the manufacturer’s.
So it’s important that your company take responsibility for the products that you sell. The FDA recommends asking for a Letter of Guaranty when working with FCS suppliers, but it is still important to do your due diligence.
2. Write a clear, detailed design brief
When working with an agency to design your foodservice packaging, the most important step comes at the very beginning: writing a packaging brief. Good designers are familiar with the most common substrates used in packaging and being clear about which materials or suppliers you prefer will empower your agency to be your eyes-on-the-ground when sourcing a manufacturer.
3. Avoid secretive suppliers
In my experience, the best suppliers are the ones who invite you to a factory walkthrough. Even if they’re on the other side of the planet, these are the vendors who want you to understand the manufacturing process and who are proud of their ability to offer safe, sustainable, responsibly-produced products.
Look for suppliers who are happy to share what they know, whether that’s in person or with photos and video. Mysterious vendors are probably mysterious for a reason – they might be trying to hide something.
4. Never sacrifice quality for price or convenience
At Shikatani Lacroix, we’re big fans of convenient take-out packaging. We believe that every foodservice business should be serving their food in a way that makes sense for today’s busy consumers. But with strict budgets and tight profit margins, companies can sometimes find themselves struggling to balance convenience, quality and price.
Regardless, quality should always be your first priority – especially when suspect products can potentially endanger food safety. But it’s not enough to say that you value quality in your packaging; it needs to become an ingrained part of your company culture. Everyone along the supply chain should know that you expect the best and you’re not willing to cut corners on safety.
5. Work with experts
Finally, the most important thing you can do to protect your customers’ safety is to accept that you can’t manage everything yourself. That’s why it’s so important to work with suppliers and design agencies you can trust as authorities in their fields. Experts with track records for excellence will be able to spot problems you can’t even imagine and will speak up when something is wrong. They will also be constantly exploring new technology and investing in innovation to introduce safer, convenient and sustainable packing. Don’t gamble with your customers, or their safety, by working with inexperienced professionals.
Do you have a manufacturing experience that went horribly wrong because you didn’t follow this advice? Or do you have your own words of wisdom for foodservice executives who don’t know who to trust? Comment with your feedback here, or reach out to me directly.