(BPT) – Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, food delivery and take-out were seeing unprecedented growth. In mid-2018, food research group Technomic found that 86% of consumers were using off-premise dining services at least once a month. Back then, the group projected that food delivery would grow 12% year-over-year for the next five years.

The pre-pandemic rise in off-premise dining increased consumer attention to issues such as food safety and hygiene. In July 2019, a consumer survey conducted by U.S. Foods found that 85% of consumers wanted restaurants to use packaging that would clearly indicate whether their food or beverages had been tampered with.

Fast-forward to September 2020, nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, when take-out and delivery skyrocketed: That month, the National Restaurant Association reported that 71% of restaurants said their off-premise sales represented a higher proportion of their total business than before the pandemic. Undoubtedly, COVID-related consumer reliance on off-premise dining combined with a news cycle focused on reducing the virus’ spread means consumer concerns about the hygiene and safety of their food and beverage delivery has skyrocketed, too.

Consumer safety concerns spur new legislation

In September 2020, a new California law was approved that requires all food and beverage delivery packaging to be tamper-evident. Specifically, food and beverages delivered by a third-party, such as DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats, must be closed by the restaurant in a tamper-evident method before handing it to the deliverer. This law went into effect on January 1, 2021.

While this California law is the first of its type in the country, it is not likely the last. Increased emphasis on food and beverage hygiene and safety while the pandemic persists may mean other states will take up similar legislation in the near future.

New requirements spur innovation

To meet the requirements of the new law in California and to stay ahead of the curve in case of future legislation in other states, restaurants of all types and sizes nationwide are seeking ways to incorporate effective tamper-evident packaging into their take-out and delivery offerings. This demand is driving some companies to develop innovative new packaging solutions.

For example, GP PRO, a division of Georgia-Pacific, has developed a tamper-evident technology specifically for beverages. The GP PRO™ Automated Sealing Machine automatically seals to-go cups with a tamper-evident, spill-resistant plastic film.

With the Automated Sealing Machine, consumers enjoy a safe, hygienic and pleasant beverage experience. Restaurant employees never touch the beverage lid, and because the lid cannot be resealed, any tampering is immediately evident. And a bonus: Sticky beverage cups arriving with half their contents spilled will be a thing of the past.

“Our Automated Sealing Machine is a game-changer in the restaurant industry. As the coronavirus pandemic has shut down in-person dining, consumers have taken even more to off-premise dining,” said Alec Frisch, vice president and general manager of GP PRO’s foodservice division. “But safety and hygiene are paramount. The key for operators will be to create an environment where patrons feel as safe and secure as possible.”

Food and beverage service of the future

If today’s trends continue, ensuring consumer health and safety will remain a primary concern for the restaurant industry, with or without the added pressure of new legislation. Improvements and innovations in packaging will remain crucial to the success of the industry moving forward.

The good news for consumers? Their food and drinks from take-out and delivery restaurants will be even more likely to arrive safe and sound.