Tamper-Evident Packaging: A Comprehensive Guide

Food tampering has been around for centuries, but the advent of social media has turned many pranks into viral videos. But food tampering is no joke. In fact, it’s a crime. Punishments vary from state to state, but could be as high as 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Reactions to food tampering vary, too. Some people are shocked. Others are disgusted. Still others get angry, calling for someone to be arrested, imprisoned, or hurt. Some call for boycotts of companies that don’t prioritize food safety.

As a restaurateur, you don’t want to fall victim to food tampering. It can harm your customers, your reputation, and your restaurant’s bottom line. There isn’t an easy answer, but you can prioritize customer safety and reduce risks to your company by using tamper-evident packaging. In this article, we’ll go through a number of topics related to tamper-evident packaging. Feel free to bookmark this page, or use this table of contents to find the section you’re looking for:

What Exactly Is Tamper-Evident Packaging?

A volunteer handling food packaging during quarantine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires the use of tamper-evident packaging for over-the-counter drug packaging. It defines tamper-evident packaging as “one having one or more indicators or barriers to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred.

In short, tamper-evident packaging creates evidence when someone meddles with the container or its contents. For something to be tamper-evident, it must be obvious that tampering occurred so that customers can protect themselves. Our own tamper-evident Handle Cuffs™, for instance, seals the entire bag by sticking to both the bag and itself. For someone to tamper with food sealed with Handle Cuffs™, they’d have to rip the bag or tear off the perforated edges. Those tears become evidence that the food was tampered with.

Tamper-evident packaging can also be—but doesn’t have to be—tamper-resistant. Tamper-resistant packaging makes it more difficult and time consuming to mess with the package or its contents. On one hand, sleeves or bottles of medicine that are difficult to open are tamper-resistant. On the other hand, a jar of jelly that pops audibly when you first open it is tamper-evident.

While tamper-evident packaging varies widely from one industry to the next, it can include the use of:

  • Plastic, watermarked, or other seals that customers must tear before they can open the package
  • Glue
  • Perforations
  • Bag seals, like Handle Cuffs™, that seal the entire bag using both perforated edges and adhesive strips.
  • Shrink wraps or other plastic wraps
  • Pouches that customers must tear open before they can get to its contents
  • Lids that pop when opened
  • Security tape
  • Induction seals

Typically, manufacturers will use multiple techniques because one form of tamper-evident packaging is often insufficient.

Interested in Tamper-Evident Packaging for Your Carryout or Delivery Orders? Check out Handle Cuffs™ Tamper-Evident Bag Seals—New from Inno-Pak.

What Tamper-Evident Packaging Is Not

It’s easy to confuse tamper-evident packaging with other forms of packaging that claim to be tamper-evident but fail to live up to the definition. Tamper-evident packaging creates evidence that tampering occurred. Any form of packaging that doesn’t create evidence is not tamper-evident.

Many forms of packaging, such as some forms of labels, falsely claim to be tamper-evident. They don’t create evidence when they’re tampered with but instead create an illusion of peace of mind or modestly slow down the act of tampering.

When Labels Fall Short

The right kind of labels used in the right way can meet the definition of tamper-evident packaging. Unfortunately, they often fall short.

Whether large or small, most labels only cover a portion of the takeout or delivery package. A would-be thief could easily circumvent the label by reaching down the sides of the bag around the label or pushing in the exposed corner of the carton.

If you roll and seal or use another form of container, someone else can still remove the label, tamper with the food, and then place the label back onto the container with no one the wiser. Worse, if customers don’t know to expect a label on their food, they may assume no one sealed their orders in the first place. Even if the label ripped or damaged the bag the food was in, another, larger label could easily cover the damage.

Some labels intentionally flake away when removed. Others leave behind messages like “VOID” when removed.

Remember, for packaging to be tamper-evident, it must create evidence that tampering occurred.

Why Use Tamper-Evident Packaging?

Not only does tamper-evident packaging prevent the tampering or theft of food intended for your customers, it also creates peace of mind for you and may protect you from liability. At the same time, customers increasingly want tamper-evident packaging so they feel safe eating food from their favorite restaurants.

It Gives You Peace of Mind

A group of happy diners eating in a restaurant.

Tamper-evident packaging helps protect against intentional tampering, promotes food safety, and prevents food theft.

Imagine that you’ve increased your food delivery and takeout operations recently, but you’re steadily receiving complaints about the number of fries on these orders. It might be that your customers want more fries for their money. Or, it could be that one of your staff delivery drivers is taking a few fries from each order. Experimenting by using tamper-evident packaging and seeing if the complaints continue could help narrow down the possibilities.

According to a poll conducted by Circuit Route Planner, nearly 80 percent of delivery drivers admit to eating customers’ food. If a delivery driver takes a few fries from a customer’s order, it’s more likely the customer will blame the restaurant for the short in their order, not their delivery driver. This ruins your customer’s experience, and it can drive up your food costs or even lose business from angry customers.

Whether taking food or sipping beverages, drivers are also increasing the possible contamination of food by providing more avenues for pathogens to spread. In a time marked by a global pandemic, consumers want restaurants to take steps to keep them safe and healthy.

Lastly, sealing bags and cartons with tamper-evident packaging also prevents food from spilling out accidentally.

Staples Can Be Dangerous

In an effort to quickly provide protection for takeout and delivery orders, many restaurants have used staples. Staples, however, can fall into customers’ food, creating a health issue for them and liability issues for the restaurant. Sharp objects like staples can injure the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Staples in food are foreign objects. If those staples injure your customers, they could have grounds for a lawsuit. According to the Normandie Law Firm, lawsuits about foreign objects found in food average more than $100,000 but class action suits can reach more than $10,000,000.

In addition to liability issues, restaurants can suffer issues with their image in the community. When MMA fighter Jimmy Smith found several staples in his burrito, he took the story to the media and created a national scandal.

Like some forms of labels, people can easily remove and replace staples without leaving much, if any, evidence. They can also cut customers’ fingers when they tear open the bags.

Customers Want Peace of Mind

In 2019, a teenage girl filmed a viral video in which she removed the lid from a half-gallon of ice cream, licked it, and placed it back in the store freezer. Police caught the girl and seized the ice cream, but the videotaped incident of food tampering led to disgusted consumers calling for tamper-evident foils on ice cream and even boycotts on companies that didn’t provide them. It also led to a string of copycat food tampering incidents.

Incidents like that drive home the main benefits of using tamper-evident packaging—deterring food tampering and giving consumers a chance to detect and avoid falling victim to it.

Using tamper-evident packaging also sends a message to restaurant goers. It says you care sincerely about their safety. In fact, tamper-evident packaging is so popular that a whopping 85% of customers want restaurants to use tamper-evident packaging, according to a US Foods study of food delivery services.

Showing customers you care about their safety is crucial. You’ve worked hard to establish yourself as a trustworthy restaurant and spent a lot of time, money, and energy creating positive experiences for your customers. Unfortunately, it only takes one negative experience created by food tampering to lose that trust.

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Governments are Starting to Require Tamper-Evident Packaging

In 2020, California passed Assembly Bill 3336, or AB-3336, and it went into effect January 1, 2021. AB-3336 requires California restaurants to use tamper-evident packaging when using third-party food delivery services.

The law doesn’t define tamper-evident packaging, but it does empower health departments to enforce the law and requires other changes, such as maintaining safe food temperatures, on food delivery operations.

California isn’t alone, either. In February 2020, New York City Council considered but didn’t pass, a similar law requiring tamper-evident packaging. While New York City and California are only two government entities, but others are sure to consider similar laws in the years to come.

What to Look for in Tamper-Evident Packaging

If you’re looking to use tamper-evident packaging in in your restaurant or foodservice, you’ll want to consider a few factors. You’ll want to ask yourself is it tamper-evident, is it tamper-resistant, can this packaging integrate with my other restaurant practices, and how your customers may react to it.

Consider asking these questions:

  • Does this packaging provide evidence if someone tampers with it?
  • Does this packaging make tampering more difficult?
  • If I were trying to steal food from this package, how would I do it? Could I do it without leaving behind evidence? Could I stick my hand through the side of the bag or carton?
  • Does this packaging promote food safety or does it present its own risks?
  • How would I use this packaging in conjunction with my other packages? Would it get in the way or complement what I’m already doing? Will I have to change other practices in my business?
  • How will my customers react to this packaging? Will it be difficult or easy for them to use it?

Complete Protection: How Handle Cuffs™ Can Help You Protect & Serve

Inno-Pak’s Handle Cuffs™ tamper-evident bag seals protect carryout and delivery orders. They extend across the top and beyond the sides of the bag to provide complete protection. Meanwhile, the mailer-style pull strip and perforations make it easy for customers to open the bag—and obvious to them if someone else did.

Handle Cuffs™ are convenient for restaurants and their customers. They work with all standard twist handle paper bags and save you time and money. By providing total protection across the bag, they remove the need to buy tamper-evident versions of all your packaging for the items that go into the bag.

Handle Cuffs™ are also recyclable, and you can customize them with your brand or design to put your personal touch on every order.

The commentary above is the sole opinion of Inno-Pak and does not reflect legal or accounting device.