How to Ensure Food Safety Through Product Packaging & Labeling?

Sumedha Gurav

Explaining difficult concepts through simple words.
June 28, 2021

Food containers and food labels are paramount in ensuring the safety of food products. Here's a quick read on how to elevate the customer experience through labels that appeal and offer convenience.

When you buy a food product, a lot of work goes into keeping that food safe. Restaurant chains and food product manufacturers know that they need to go well beyond the government regulations to ensure customer safety. 

In the wake of the pandemic, customers are ordering takeaway or are getting food delivered to their doorstep. There is apprehension about how safe food packaging is at such trying times. Food and grocery delivery services are taking extra care to prevent the virus from spreading. 

For example, McDonald has started using a sticker on their delivery packaging that encourages people to stay home. Dominos ensures with their labels that their food products are safe as they are all baked at high temperatures where the virus cannot survive. 

Besides labels, the choice of materials also ensures food safety. While plastic packaging is safe, manufacturers are still under pressure to use eco-friendly packaging. For example, Sun Sugar Farms in Verona, Ky., has been using compostable boxes. These boxes guarantee food safety while ensuring that others do not touch the food.

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How Packaging Materials Keep your Food Safe

The choice of packaging materials is fundamental in keeping your food safe. Food packaging materials are diverse: they can be plastics, paper, glass, or metals. Packaging that is certified as food-safe has a "wine glass and fork" symbol embossed on them. 

FDA has stringent regulations on the types of materials that manufacturers can use for manufacturing food containers. The FDA Regulation 21 CFR states what materials one can use for creating food containers. The regulation ensures that the container does not make the food injurious to health. Moreover, the packaging should also ensure that no other substances get transferred into the food once it is packed.

The pandemic has also affected the choice of materials for food containers. Early studies have shown that the virus can survive on packaging material for days. However, consumers can disinfect them easily using common disinfectants. This has pushed manufacturers to create packaging that can be sanitized easily. Besides PET packaging, Ready-To-Eat (RTE), Ready-To-Heat (RTH), and other similar grab-and-go packaging concepts will also increase. Consumers now prefer eating at home, after having cleaned and cooked their food. 

The Role of Labeling in Food Safety

At present, food labels play an equally important role in both short-term and long-term safety. Consumers now read the fine print on product labels before they purchase. Government agencies across the world have their own set of regulations for ensuring food safety through food labels. 

1. FDA’s Food Labeling Regulations 

In the US, FDA regulates food labels, which includes

2. Proper Food Dating

Correctly dating food ensures that consumers do not consume stale food products or prematurely discard them. In the US, mentioning this date is not compulsory. Therefore, it often creates confusion in the minds of consumers. Improper dating also causes a lot of food wastage.

30%-40% percent of food produced in the US goes uneaten as consumers cannot understand if the food is safe or not. Manufacturers should mention that their "best if used by" is simply a quality indicator and not a safety indicator. Manufacturers can also mention storage instructions to ensure that the food lasts longer once unpacked. 

3. Allergen Declaration

In 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) emphasized declaring major food allergens that cause almost 90% of all food allergies. These are

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Peanuts
  4. Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  5. Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
  6. Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
  7. Soy
  8. Wheat

If your packed food contains any of these products, even as an additive, then you should ensure that it is mentioned on your label. As with any violation of federal law, failing to mention the allergens may lead to grave consequences. 

An easy way to ensure the correctness of your label is to proof the contents collaboratively. An artwork management platform is a great help in this regard. 

Labeling Changes During the Pandemic

Since the pandemic, consumers have shifted more towards products with clean and transparent labels. While label design does not guarantee product safety, the design can communicate in subtle ways. Food labels that enable consumers to quickly recognize the contents are favored more. 

Consumers now look for products that have not been touched or tampered with. This requirement makes security labeling paramount. As consumers now prefer home-delivered foods and groceries, they look for tamper-evident labeling to ensure that their deliveries are untouched. 

Labeling Ideas To Establish Food Product Safety

Food labels are a crucial part of invoking trust in consumers. During this pandemic, and in the future, manufacturers can use labels to communicate the hygiene level of the product.

1. Transparent Packaging

At present, clean, and transparent food packaging with easy-to-read labels are extremely popular. Furthermore, labels can also inform customers if they can sanitize the product packaging as liquids may spoil paper-based packaging. For example, Zomato uses sealed transparent plastic bags for delivery that ensure that the food items are untouched. They can also be sanitized easily.

Food safety through product packaging and labeling - zomato
Image Credits: Zomato

2. Temperature-sensitive Labels

Heat can kill viruses and bacteria, even Sars-Cov2. Brands can encourage consumers to heat their food before consuming it. The label design can also incorporate temperature-sensitive labels.

3. Color-Changing Labels

Color-changing food labels can determine product freshness. This form of food labels can prevent confusion with food dating in the future. Smart food labels can detect bacterial growth on food, irrespective of printed expiration dates. 

4. Communicative Sticker Labels

Food labels can remind customers to wash their hands and maintain required health safety practices. Dominos and Mcdonald's are using sticker labels to seal their packaging and encourage people to stay at home. 

food safety through product labeling - mcdonalds

Wrapping Up

While FDA regulations ensure a level of food safety, manufacturers are going well beyond that to establish consumer trust. Food packaging is now tuned for delivery and takeaways.

How are you planning to tweak your food packaging labels for the current scenario? Let us know in the comments below.

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