Rob Brown at OKI Europe explores the latest innovations in packaging technology to ensure product compliance

What kinds of packaging technology are available to food manufacturers?

Labels are a key element of packaging for food products and are critical for presenting information to consumers, such as the list of ingredients and potential allergens. Label printing technology for example can help businesses develop versatile, professional labels that provide important information while capturing maximum impact.
 
By leveraging intricately designed labels on transparent or coloured media, consumers can easily spot allergen information. White typeface on clear or coloured background can add greater distinction to key messages and ensure they’re not missed.
 
Five colour printing capabilities can also add a new colour dimension to the label and allow for greater flexibility in label design. The white can be used to create designs on coloured or metallised effect substrates, such as gold and silver, which are difficult to print using other digital technologies. These solutions can enable eye-catching labels to be devised without impacting on costs.

What kinds of information labels must display in accordance with EU Directive?

Food and beverage companies in the EU​​ are bound by strict laws on allergen information, which continue to apply to UK companies post-Brexit. They must tell customers if any food they provide contains one of 14 key allergens​​, including gluten, such as wheat, barley and oats.
 
It means that for craft beer brands for example, they must highlight clearly where gluten is utilised in their products. With over 2,400 breweries in the UK alone​​, it’s a significant quantity of sold products that must be labelled with accurate information every year.
 
UK organisations must also keep pace with the regulatory approach taken by the World Health Organisation, with laws in allergen labelling becoming more stringent, with ‘may contain’ or precautionary allergen labelling beginning to be seen as problematic.
 
Now, food and beverage companies must move away from vague or unclear wording and state that a certain product is definitely not suitable for a certain allergy sufferer. It’s not hyperbole to suggest labels are a critical component in communicating this information and could save a life.

How labels can be created to minimise damage, so that information such as allergen info can be read?

Using the craft beer industry as an example, bottles can be subject to condensation when stored in certain environments. Food labels can also be damaged from the product making contact with the external label. If the label then degrades through water or other liquid exposure, consumers risk being unable to read vital information.
 
Food manufacturers can therefore benefit from waterproof labels that are both robust and resistant to liquids and UV fading. This is alongside resistance to harsh chemicals, oil and extreme temperatures.
 
Any UK-based organisation dealing with EU businesses must also be aware of EU rules, which state that some two-colour labels​​ must survive for up to three months underwater without the label or printed matter coming away or disintegrating. Multiple-colour narrow-format waterproof labels are able to achieve this for the duration of the EU-mandated period.

The flexibility and potential benefits of an in-house solution?

Clear and durable labelling is a must for food and beverage brands, but accessing these labels from an outsourced provider can prove an issue when it comes to making changes to allergen information quickly. Lengthy lead times can mean that any mandatory new alterations aren’t reflected immediately, leading to potential non-compliance, leaving consumers at risk.
 
Additionally, minimum order requirements set by print service providers means that outdated labels must be thrown away when they need to be updated, creating waste.
 
The key is bringing print technology in-house to remove the reliance on third-party providers and ensure that alterations can be made to labels as soon as regulations change. With new food labelling rules on EU products entering the GB market set to come into force on 1 January 2024, brands can take charge of their labelling requirements in advance.
 
Owning the technology also allows organisations to achieve cost savings and a reduction in potential waste by being able to print exact quantities needed, whether it’s one or 1,000.

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