By Lois Harris
In a world dominated by increasing numbers of food recalls it’s becoming more important to train staff to be extra vigilant about what goes on and in packages at the manufacturing stage. Most manufacturers are vigilant about maintaining safe food throughout the production process and they go to great lengths to prevent pathogens like e. coli and salmonella from making their way into their products. But sometimes it’s the final step – packaging – where slip-ups occur, triggering recalls that waste valuable time and money, and damage a company’s reputation.
Packaging meets a number of goals. It contains the food product, so it can be transported, it provides nutrition, ingredient and marketing information about the contents, it allows food to be tracked and traced and, in some instances, it can indicate whether the food has been spoiled. Its importance can’t be overstated.
Sometimes it’s the final step – packaging – where slip-ups occur…
At the same time, there are many ways that packaging can fail: materials may leach into the product, contamination may occur, seals might fail and the package itself might break down physically.
Another danger lies in the area of mislabelling of allergens, which in and of itself is a pervasive issue in the United States. Manufacturers large and small have had to deal with this kind of problem. For example, Hostess issued a voluntary recall of its Cookies’n Crème brownies in early August 2018. Although “egg” had been listed on the ingredients list, it had been omitted from the product package labels in the “contains” section, which is the area on a package that alerts consumers with allergies about what to watch out for.
In the two months between July 12, 2018 and September 12, 2018, 17 of the 29 recalls recorded on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website were due to undeclared allergens (milk, wheat, egg, soy, almond, peanut).
Packaging concerns also played a part in 119 of the 422 food recalls in Canada from March 31, 2017 to April 1, 2018, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“Each recall is hugely costly – between $3 million and $10 million – and damage to the brand name is on top of that,” says Dr. Ruth Eden, President of BioExpert, an online resource for the exchange of expert information on food safety.
Eden cites the introduction of the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), which went into effect in 2006, for the increase in these types of recalls. The law is aimed at ensuring clearer labelling for consumers with food allergies.
“The first line of defence is having labelling people who understand the nuances of the product, its ingredients and the requirements of the legislation,” Eden says, adding that problems can also occur further down the line when labels look the same and staff grab the wrong ones, or up the line when suppliers don’t declare allergens in the ingredients.
Karen Leacock-Bingham, Senior Food Safety Specialist of Operations and Food Safety Technical Services at NSF International, agrees.
“All companies should ensure one person is responsible for keeping them up-to-date with government regulations, changes in standards, industry updates and deadlines for implementation as applicable to the packaging industry,” she says. “Employees should be trained and refreshed on an annual basis for HACCP, GMP and the company’s personnel policy.”
Besides packaging training, NSF offers courses in HACCP, food safety and quality, GFSI-benchmarked standards, ISO standards, food science, microbiology and regulations. The organization delivers more than 550 online and in-person courses around the world in eight languages.
Packaging suppliers, too, must be vigilant, and food processors and retailers should insist on a high level of security, like being PACsecure certified, which covers five food safety standards for packaging materials based on HACCP criteria.
Leacock-Bingham and many other experts in the field say that packaging training – like all food safety training – should be “customized to a company’s unique need and operations.”
Keeping staff properly trained and maintaining a strong food safety culture in which everyone is vigilant from the boardroom to the plant floor are critical to avoiding recalls.
About the Author
Lois Harris is the principal freelance writer and editor at Wordswork Communications, where she’s dedicated to helping people get their stories told. She works with food manufacturers, non-profit organizations, governments and universities to develop targeted materials that inform, convince and sell.