Basic Requirements for Food Containers and Packaging on Food Premises (R638-C7)

No matter what type of food business you’re in, you will always use different types of food containers or packaging for your food products. Whether it’s for selling, displaying, serving, preparation, storing until further processing, or transportation purposes.

Food containers, including food packaging material, comes directly in contact with “open food”. This poses a risk to the food and must meet specific requirements to be considered safe.

A simple definition of a food container means any container intended or designed to contain food.


Let’s have a look at the basic requirements for food containers and appliances that come in contact with food, as well as the basic requirements for packaging food.

This article refers to the requirements of Regulation (Clause) 7 (STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD CONTAINERS, APPLIANCES AND EQUIPMENT) of Regulation R638 of 2018, which governs the general hygiene requirements for food premises, the transport of food and related matters in South Africa.

This article also provides additional information for clarity.

Please read our Disclaimers and Disclosures page. We do not provide legal advice.

General Requirements for Food Containers and Appliances

Firstly, any containers or appliances used during food handling must be clean and in a good condition.

Secondly, food containers and appliances should not contain any harmful substances, for example, toxic or other substances likely to contaminate or spoil the food in the container.

Lastly, food containers and appliances must be made of food-grade materials. A food-grade container does not transfer non-food chemicals into the food and has no chemicals which would pose a health hazard to humans.

Examples of Unacceptable Food Containers / Packaging

Food businesses are not allowed to store food products in unacceptable food containers.

Non-food-grade containers and packaging material that comes in direct contact with food can have toxins and other substances that may contaminate food products.

Fish wrapped in newspaper
Fish wrapped in newspaper

Some examples of unacceptable food containers / packaging:

  • Trash bags.
  • Using newspaper to wrap food.
  • Containers that initially held chemicals or other non-food items.

Canned and Other Hermetically Sealed Food Containers

We all know what canned food is, but what does hermetically sealed mean?

A hermetically sealed container is a tightly sealed container from which no air can escape or enter the container.

All canned food is hermetically sealed, but canned food containers are not the only hermetically sealed containers used for food storage.

A person is not allowed to sell canned or other hermetically sealed food in a container that may pose a health risk to consumers when consumed. This means it’s illegal to sell food in damaged containers.

Unacceptable Canned Food Containers

Have you ever seen dented, rusted or bulging canned food on a supermarket shelf or even in your own pantry? Eating food from unsafe canned food containers can cause a serious health risk to consumers.

The biggest threat is a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum (botulism) which can produce a deadly toxin. Other pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms can also affect canned food when the container is damaged.

Canned food containers

The following are unacceptable for canned food containers:

  • The container bulges at the flat, round or end sides.
  • The container bulges on the other side when you press one side.
  • The container is blown in any way.
  • Gas escapes from the lid or any part of the container when it is opened or punctured. Escaping gas from the container is only acceptable if it contains an aerated drink or where gas has been used as a preservative. For example, soda drinks.
  • Containers that are so rusted, dented or damaged that
    • it is liable to contaminate or spoil the food;
    • it leaks or become unsealed; or
    • has a leak or had a leak that was resealed.


Other Hermetically Sealed Containers

Except for the conditions specifically applicable to canned food containers above, a person may not sell food in any other hermetically sealed container that is so rusted, dented or damaged that –

  • it is liable to contaminate or spoil the food;
  • it leaks or has become unsealed; or
  • has a leak or had a leak that was resealed.

Examples of other hermetically sealed containers are canned food in glass bottles, shelf-stable pouches holding broth, gravies or sauces, etc.

Requirements for Pre-packaged Food

A very important requirement for pre-packaged food containers is the ability to clearly see if the pre-packaged food were previously opened by someone else AND to protect the food against contamination.

  • Containers used for pre-packaged food products must be dustproof and liquid proof.
  • It must also protect the food against contamination under normal handling conditions.
  • The food must be packed, sealed or wrapped in such a way that it cannot be removed from the container without the lid, stopper or a similar seal being removed or damaged.

Requirements for Unpackaged Perishable Food

Unpackaged perishable food when served to consumers must first be packed in a container that protects the food from contamination. Protective containers are normally enclosed.

Food containers for perishable food products

Does this mean when a restaurant serves you a meal, they’re supposed to put the food in a protective container instead of an open plate in front of you? NO.

There are two exceptions to the rule. If you serve perishable food to consumers, you don’t have to put the food in a protective container if the food –

  1. is intended for consumption on the food premises.
  2. are unprocessed agricultural crops.
Restaurant meal
Meals consumed on the food premises
Unprocessed agricultural crops
Unprocessed agricultural crops

Examples of Perishable Food

Perishable foods have a limited shelf life after slaughter, production, processing, preparation or harvest. Perishable foods can include primary food products, as well as any final food products after preparation, processing or production.

  • Fruit salads
  • Vegetable dishes
  • Fish
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Bread
  • Cooked grains
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Yoghurt
  • Lunch / processed meats
  • Stews
  • Sauces
  • Sour cream
  • Potatoes
  • Beef
  • Cheese
  • Pies
  • Cakes
  • Salads


The purpose of storing food in containers is to prevent contamination, and in many instances, extend shelf life.

Primary food packaging comes in direct contact with food. This poses a contamination risk, and all precautions are necessary to protect the food product.

Not all containers are suitable for food storage or packing. Food storages containers must be made of food-grade materials and intended for food storage.

Food storage containers and any appliances used during food handling must be clean, in a good condition, suitable and pose no risk to the food products.

Please drop us a comment in the comment section below. We would love to get your opinion and answer any questions you may have!


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2 thoughts on “Basic Requirements for Food Containers and Packaging on Food Premises (R638-C7)”

  1. Good reminders and helpful guidelines for anyone needing information on the requirements for food containers. It’s important to make sure that things are packaged correctly in order to avoid contamination and avoidable food spoilage and potential illness. 

    What mistake do you think is most common with food container safety? I want to make sure to look out for any obvious signs!

  2. Hi guys,

    I do appreciate your effort to bring this type of article of great importance to our attention. Many folks do not realize the danger of putting the food in any type of container. This article has shed light and I am now educated about food conservation.

    Thank you for the information especially about the canned food containers – this is something I did not pay attention to before.


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