Packaging Safety – What You Need to Know

The requirements with respect to food safety and packaging safety in the consumer supply chain have become much more rigid over the past few years and for good reason.

Foodborne illness is a significant concern with an increasing number of tainted food incidences being reported over the past decade. As well, globalization and escalating imports (15% of total consumption), complex supply chains, new emerging pathogens and hazards, shifting demographics (aging population at a higher risk), media communications and food-related recalls are all drivers for this change. If you track the recalls in Canada and USA, you will see that regularly products are being recalled due to some risk to public health and wellness.

Investigations into the root cause of these incidences have revealed that there are risks throughout the entire food supply system, including packaging safety. As a result, both Canada and the USA are addressing these concerns with new regulations.

Safety Regulations

The US FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 giving the FDA authority to implement changes to food safety regulations. The purpose of this new law is to move to a preventative system whereby the brand owner, food processor and/or importer will implement processes and controls to ensure food safety. In other words, all food (both for human and animal consumption) sold in the USA must meet the minimum requirements for safety.

The overlying premise is to encourage food importers and suppliers to implement adequate food safety controls to ensure tainted food does not reach the consumer. The FDA will have the authority to demand mandatory recalls, prevent goods from entering the country and suspend registration. The agency will expect enhanced product tracing abilities and may require additional recordkeeping for high-risk foods. These rules will encompass every link in the supply chain including raw materials, packaging, and transportation. Food processors are to ensure they are able to trace packaging up through the supply chain to the raw materials and suppliers must be able to trace their products down to their customers.

Health Canada is enacting similar requirements through the Safe Food for Canadians Act and will expect all companies in the supply chain to take responsibility for their products and ensure packaging safety. See the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.

Food companies have long understood the importance of providing a safe product to their consumers. If they do not, they face expensive and sometimes, crippling, product recalls. Today, with social media, a recall can severely damage a company’s reputation and, at the very least, result in a loss of sales or customers.

Packaging Safety

Packaging suppliers are facing new requirements in light of these regulations. So often, I have heard the question, “Who has ever been sick or injured from packaging?” The answer to this is we do not know the extent of contamination because we, in the past, did not trace back to packaging when examining the cause of the recall.

Years ago while selling flexible film, a customer of mine in Oregon had a major recall of their cereal due to bacterial contamination. After exhaustive examination, they were unable to find the source of the contamination and were very anxious that it might happen again. Never once did it occur to us that the packaging may have been the source.

Today, the expectation is that all ingredients and direct food contact supplies be traceable and that companies take measures to prevent potential injury or illness to the consumer.

Allergen Mislabelling

One of the leading cause of recalls is allergen mislabelling.  Incorrectly labelled packaging can result in filling a product in the wrong container. When this happens, mislabelled products can potentially cause illness and even death.

Companies that have not taken adequate steps to prevent risk and/or who knowingly distribute contaminated products can be held criminally responsible. At the very least, they could face heavy fines.

Fortunately, there are safety standards available for packaging companies with some recognized globally by GFSI – the Global Food Safety Initiative. These standards include good manufacturing practices and safety protocols that, when implemented, greatly reduce risk.

IFS PACsecure is one such standard developed specifically to meet the unique and specific requirements of packaging production. Major international suppliers such as International Paper and Amcor have selected this standard.

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