With all the food safety scares going on globally across product categories, we need to be concerned about safety and security across the food chain.

With all the food safety scares going on globally across product categories, we need to be concerned about safety and security across the food chain.

Consumers buy products and assume the consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketer or brand owner (often a retailer’s private label) are ensuring consumer safety and are responsible parties. That assumption makes sense. And, there has been quite a bit of technical work over the years in the areas of time/temperature sensors, radio-frequency identification and quick-response codes, but there seems to be little traction in food and dairy. Why aren’t we prepared?

Food and dairy continue to be pretty status quo and follow the old Food and Drug Administration’s pharmaceutical guidelines for tamper-evident packaging. Remember, these are not tamper-resistant or tamper-proof guidelines.

Typically, on dairy products, one sees breakaway closures on milk, shrink sleeves/labels on bottles and tubs, and sealed membranes on yogurts and dips. Most ice cream has no tamper-evident feature, but consumers believe and trust it to be secure. In fact, shoppers prefer to have features referring to “freshness keeping” not tamper evident. 

Certainly bar codes and code dating help us to be able to know when the product was made (or when it should be used by), but there is still much confusion about this terminology by CPGs and brand owners. This often results in consumers throwing away products needlessly. Beyond safety and security, just think of the negative impact on sustainability efforts.

As supply chains grow more complex, both globally and locally, manufacturers need to look again at what they are doing across the entire ingredient/package value chain. Consumers want more fresh-like products, so companies are continuing to develop new technologies such as high-pressure processing. Also, the growth of private label and private brand are leading to more premium products, more natural foods (with fewer ingredients and more wholesome ones) and organic products, including some raw products. Ultra-clean facilities are delivering longer shelf life and fresher dairy products. Other new processes and package technologies are in development, including micro-oxygen, pressure-assisted thermal sterilization.

Six questions to ask yourself

There are lots of changes coming. Are you prepared? How would you answer these six questions?

• Do you feel your company is looking hard enough at the changing supply/value chain?

• Have you looked across your packaging, starting at the incoming ingredients packaging, intermediate bulk containers, etc?

• Do you know the climate and environmental conditions that these products or ingredients have traveled through to get to your facility?

• What was the distribution and warehousing environment like en route to your facility?

• Have you done complete value-chain audits of your contract manufacturers to ensure you have a track-and-trace program in place?

• Have you done technology searches and looked at cost/need/viability models for your products?

As you know, there have been a variety of food and beverage safety and security packaging-related incidents and recalls in the past. They include pallet and primary package/odor and taints, the discovery of metal shavings and glass pieces in foods, improperly cured inks, deliberate tampering, and under-processed retort and canned foods. We can’t even count the number of recalls due to improper labels.

All this makes you wonder who is watching the store. These incidents have resulted in many millions of dollars in recalls as well as (in certain cases) severe illness and death.

Consider the questions above. Then ask: Are you feeling good about the safety and security of your packaging? Remember, consumers expect your products and brands to be safe and secure. A brand is a very fragile thing. The sense at our company is that there are more safety and security issues hitting packaging than ever before. 

It is often said “I would rather be lucky than good.” But when it comes to food packaging, safety and security, I would rather be good than lucky.