Foodservice packaging items, like paper and plastic cups, plates and bowls, were invented over 100 years ago to provide a more sanitary alternative to their reusable counterparts and help protect public health. Over the years, FPI has commissioned independent studies with third-party laboratories to compare the sanitary quality of single-use foodservice packaging and reusable options. The last study was conducted in 2012 in Sacramento County, California. Since 2012, reuse models for takeout and delivery have emerged and gained interest as sustainability measures and reporting, along with the impact of disposable items on the environment and potential cost-savings of reducing use of disposable items, became more highly scrutinized.
The objective of the new study was to conduct a survey of reusable takeout and delivery items, single-use items and dine-in reusable foodservice items to determine the sanitary quality of these items in foodservice establishments in North America.
Three types of foodservice items were tested: reusable dine-in, reusable to-go durables and single-use items. Sanitation levels were tested by conducting three microbiological analyses on each item. Along with aerobic plate count microbial levels, the study also compared levels of Coliform and Staphylococcus bacteria. The results show that there were no differences observed in Coliform counts and there were no significant differences between reusable dine-in and disposable items; findings which contrasted with the 2012 study. Staphylococcus was only found in very low levels across all types of foodservice items, which remains consistent with the 2012 study.
Overall, reusable to-go durable foodservice items had higher aerobic plate count microbiological levels than reusable dine-in and single-use items. Previous studies in other parts of the country have shown confirming results where reusable items had higher microbiological counts than single-use items. Variances could be attributed to any number of factors, including handling by foodservice employees or changes in dishwashing technology.