Tamper-evident packaging has found its niche in the perimeter of the supermarket, whether it be with grab-and-go applications like sandwiches and packaging nuts, or sealed clamshells with cupcakes inside.

But what about when that food goes on the road?

Online ordering and grocery delivery are on the rise, and more retailers are offering their fresh and prepared foods as part of those programs.

“Obviously, when it comes to most grocery delivery, a lot of the products are already tamper-evident, because they’re in a can or a box,” says Sean Umbenhouer, director of food packaging for Commerce, California-based Elkay Plastics. “But there are those fresh foods that are susceptible. Third-party delivery drivers can always open a package and take food or contaminate something.”

Bag it up

Hartsville, South Carolina-based Novolex has seen an increase in demand for tamper-evident bags.

“It really started with Uber Eats and the food delivery surge where a lot of our operators wanted to make sure there was not access to the food,” says Adrianne Tipton, vice president of innovation and market development for Novolex. “They wanted some sort of sealable bag.”

One of the answers to that request is the company’s Load and Fold Bag, which features a patent-pending design to allow for easy loading, and a fold-over closure to secure items inside. The tamper-evident option can be used with a branded label or other adhesive.

“As we got into more of the grocery space and the home delivery, or even meal pick-up in the deli section, we found there was a desire to have some sort of sealable packaging,” Tipton says.

Another new entry into the market is the company’s Load & Seal tamper-evident delivery bag, which features a seal inside the pouch and is available in both paper and plastic.

Pan Pacific Manufacturing — based in Hayward, California — won the 2017 Foodservice Package of the Year for Innovation award from the Foodservice Packaging Institute for its Seat-2-Go tamper-evident carryout bags. The bags are sealed by the foodservice operator and feature patent-pending technology with a permanent closure adhesive strip, built-in vent passages and a wide opening top for easy loading.

Room to vent

Ventilation is a relatively new concern when it comes to tamper-evident packaging — another side effect of delivering hot, fresh food. Condensation can wreak havoc on your bag of choice, whether that be paper or plastic.

“That’s the main challenge along the lines of grocery delivery or picking up instore,” Tipton says.

Too much condensation on a paper bag and it can begin to weaken and fall apart. A plastic bag keeps all the moisture inside, which can lead to a soggy mess and unappetizing food.

Novolex battles these problems separately, utilizing technology from its line of lawn and leaf bags to create stronger paper products and adding ventilation in the plastic products.

“We can leverage expertise from our special laminations division, which helps with a stronger bag component,” Tipton says. “And on the plastic side, that’s why we add vents to the product.”

Cutting cost

Elkay Plastics, and others, offer up alternatives to tamper-evident bags, which can sometimes increase costs substantially.

“A tamper-evident takeout bag, generally, is about 30 to 40% higher to produce than the standard takeout bag,” Umbenhouer says. “From a cost standpoint, a company is probably not going to replace their current everyday takeout bag with a tamper-evident bag for all orders. The cost is going to go up dramatically.”

Instead, he says, there has been an increase in companies who are choosing to stick with their current takeout bags and instead spend money on a customizable label that, in essence, seals the bag and makes it tamper-evident. It’s a fancier version of simply stapling the bag shut.

“It’s a lower-cost option than doing a bag, not to mention you’re not carrying an extra SKU from a bag standpoint,” Umbenhouer says. “A label is much easier to get than producing a custom bag and carrying two takeout bags of the same size — one with a tamper-evident label and one without.”

Consumer interaction

Tamper-evident packaging must provide a barrier between the food and unintended recipients while also not providing too much of a barrier between the food and its intended recipient.

The first generation of plastic tamper-evident bags from Novolex, for example did not include perforations underneath the sealed flap.

“We found out that consumers were going to have to get out scissors or a knife and try to cut into it,” Tipton says. “We didn’t want that to be a deterrent.”

 The perforation is strong enough that it doesn’t break under the weight of the bag, but it’s weak enough that the seal can be broken when the consumer slides their finger underneath it.

Ready to cook

Elkay Plastics’ new Ready. Chef. Go! bags — which are designed to have food cooked right inside them — feature tamper-evident technology.

Retailers fill the bags — whether it’s a mix of protein and vegetables or just one or the other — and then seal them, either with a permanent tap closer or a heat sealer.

“If someone tried to open that bag, it would obviously be apparent,” Umbenhouer says. “It provides that layer of security when an consumer orders it online and has it delivered.”

Joining forces

Not every retailer will want to go with tamper-evident bags for delivery. In those cases, a combination of standard bags and tamper-evident plastic containers will produce the desired end result.

Safe-T-Fresh PagodaWare containers from Shelton, Connecticut-based Inline Plastics, for example, provide a tamper-evident choice for prepared foods, salads, sushi, fruit and more. They feature a patented freshness seal and patented Safe-T-Fresh technology, which the company says is tamper-evident and tamper-resistant.