The demands on food packaging design seem almost endless. First and foremost, packaging must protect the product inside, but much more is required. Packages must contain ingredient information and relevant safe handling and prep information, but they must also carry branding elements that make people want to purchase the product. Moreover, customers are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of food packaging designs.
People demand much from their food packaging, and fortunately, packaging manufacturers are able to meet those demands.
Food safety, of course, is a top concern among manufacturers, and they take prescribed steps to maximize the safety of the product itself. What about the safety of the packaging? Food brands must consider the relevant safety aspects of food packaging designs to ensure the product inside is not compromised in any way.
What Do Consumers Worry About Most?
Consumers worry more about the contents of the package than the package itself. Only when packaging poses frightening risks (like shards of glass from improperly manufactured bottles falling into a product) do they pay much attention to the safety aspects of food packaging designs. Therefore, they may not understand packaging choices that make perfect sense to food manufacturers because of packaging safety issues. However, food manufacturers must concern themselves with the safety profiles of every contributor to the supply chain, including the packaging companies.
Food Packaging Safety Does Not Get as Much Attention – Yet
While you will see the occasional article pop up online calling attention to potentially frightening-sounding additives to food packaging, food packaging design qualities do not receive the same type of scrutiny that food ingredients (like coloring agents) historically have. People simply do not associate the packaging surrounding their food products with the potential for chemical or biological contamination of food, when in fact it is a real possibility. Should food packaging be implicated in a food safety recall for reasons aside from minor labeling errors, however, brands could suffer disproportionately because of it.
Readiness Guidelines for Food Brands
There is no substitute for planning for a potential problem with food packaging.
Food manufacturers have to position themselves for action in the event of food being affected by its packaging. For one thing, they must know all the components that go into their food packaging designs and understand the health risks associated with packaging components contacting the food inside. Quantifying the risk is not easy, but it is a wise move ahead of time because it helps brands plan better for alternative food packaging designs that can be integrated with minimum disruption. Manufacturers must ensure that they are aligned with all suppliers in understanding the concerns and exploring potential alternative packaging methods.
Monitor Every Step of the Supply and Production Chain
Every step of the process of getting food products from the manufacturer to the consumer introduces some element of risk, and it is essential that food brands understand what the risks are at every step. For example, brands must regularly review the hygiene practices of the environment in which food products are packaged. They must also have a keen understanding of the materials used. All layers of laminate films, for instance, must be food-safe, and printing inks must not contain chemicals that can migrate through packaging and onto food.
Quality assurance in the manufacturing of packaging must be ensured. Manufacturing defects have the potential to affect the food inside. Fortunately, several packaged goods companies have joined together to form a safety-oriented committee of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. This group has developed hazard analyses and strived to better understand the role of human error and supply chain error in food packaging design safety.
There is no single action that can ensure absolute safety of a given food packaging design because there are so many steps between production and consumption. However, preparation, understanding of risks, and development of decision trees and potential alternatives in the event of an incident work together to prevent food safety problems and the extensive brand damage they can do.
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