Opening Food Packaging on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is it permitted to rip off the packaging of wine bottles, coffee jars, candy bars, paper goods, sugar packets or other items necessary for Shabbos?

Discussion: It is permitted90 to rip off or tear a wrapper which surrounds wine or grape juice bottle caps, candy bars, freeze pops or any items necessary for Shabbos. It is permitted to rip off a seal that covers the contents of a container, such as the inside seal of a coffee jar or an aluminum foil seal on a yogurt container, etc. When tearing any packaging, one should be careful to avoid tearing any letters or pictures.91 It is permitted to cut or tear between the letters of a word or between words. It is permitted to poke a hole and insert a straw into bags or boxes which contain beverages.92

Question: Is it permitted to rip open a corrugated box which contains packages of cookies or paper goods, etc.?

Discussion: It is permitted to rip off the tape which seals this type of box. But it is forbidden to open such a box if the flaps are glued together tightly and must be separated to open. Corrugated boxes are often reused after their contents are removed, and one is particular to open them in a manner which is not destructive, so that it can be reused. This may be a violation of Tearing.93

But it is permitted to open a cookie or cereal box or bag, even if one does not immediately empty out its contents and even if the box or bag is not destroyed in the process. It makes no difference if the box is made out of cardboard, plastic or paper, nor does it make a difference if the box contains food or something else such as medicine, clothing or toys. It is only prohibited to open a container which is made of strong, long-lasting material such as a barrel or a corrugated box which might be reused in the future.94

Question: Leben or yogurt cups sometimes come attached to each other and must be separated along a perforated line before they can be eaten individually. Is that permitted to be done on Shabbos?

Discussion: Contemporary poskim debate whether or not it is permitted to separate attached yogurt or leben cups from each other. Some consider it a violation of Mechatech and Makeh b’patish,95 while others hold it is permitted altogether.96

General note: Even if one mistakenly opened a can or a bottle in a manner which is clearly prohibited, it is not forbidden to eat the food or beverage.97

90. Entire paragraph based on rulings of Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 9:12-13; Me’or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 496). There are dissenting opinions as well; see Knei Bosem 1:22 for a review.

91. Simple designs such as a square or a frame are not considered pictures; see Orchos Shabbos 15, note 28.

92. Orchos Shabbos 12:8; Binyan Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 145, quoting Rav S.Z. Auerbach.

93. See Orchos Shabbos 12:10.

94. Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Tikunim u’Miluim 9:11 and Shulchan Shelomo 314:7-5, 6. See Binyan Shabbos, vol. 2, pgs. 145-149, for a comprehensive review of the entire subject. There are dissenting opinions who are stringent and forbid opening all boxes or bags; see Knei Bosem 1:22.

95. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Orchos Shabbos 12:12, Me’or ha-Shabbos, vol. 2, pg. 551).

96. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Orchos Shabbos 12:18. note 31, Shulchan Shelomo 314:13-3).

97. Shulchan Shelomo 314:9-6; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 9:24.