Food labeling errors have fast become both a costly and brand-damaging issue for food manufacturers. In fact, labeling issues are among the main reasons for food recalls in the first place. With ingredients, barcodes, SKUs, material items and item codes competing for space on food packaging, it is no wonder errors in labeling occur.
Despite the many manual quality checks meant to keep this information accurate, human error can sometimes lead to these details slipping by.
Oftentimes, undeclared allergens are to blame for food label recalls. Either allergen-causing ingredients are left off of the label entirely, or the label no longer reflects the original ingredients because the original recipe was altered. If not listed, ingredients such as milk, nuts, wheat, soy and eggs can cause allergic reactions in customers consuming such products unaware that the product contains the offending ingredient. From mild reactions to emergency room visits, such mistakes can result in cross contamination, illness and in worst-case scenarios, death.
Best By Dates
Many mistakes in labeling can also be linked to incorrect “best by dates.” An incorrect best by date can typically occur when a quality check doesn’t catch that the wrong date has been imprinted on a product. This is a common mistake in labeling, usually due to a change in month or year where the imprint changes only one feature of the date but not the other. For instance, the day has been changed, but the month hasn’t been changed.
This mistake can result in the product spoiling before the date listed and the customer unknowingly ingesting the product.
Faulty Printing Equipment
Using dated equipment can also result in a variety of printing errors. Barcodes can be illegible or only partially printed or codes can be left off entirely. Other mistakes, such as incorrect code placement, can also result in costly recalls.
The Automation Solution
With over 60 percent of U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalls occurring due to labeling issues and human error, it’s no wonder that food manufacturers would look for solutions that limit the role of humans, thereby limiting human error.
This is where automation can help. With so many different types of food labeling software, manufacturers have a wealth of solutions available to them.
With software such as Autocoding, popular in the food packaging and labeling industry, every segment of an operation can be linked using internet of things (IoT) devices. For instance, information about the product can be input into the system. Labels can be scanned, validated and stored, creating a master database where that information is housed.
At the production end, the database is then linked with scanners, touch-screen PCs, printers and packaging line cameras to make certain that the right labels are being applied to the right products using real-time data.
In the event that information doesn’t match up from database to barcode, the entire production can be halted in the moments after the mistake is caught. This will save both time and money for the manufacturer.
With fewer people making decisions along the supply chain thanks to the introduction of labeling software, there are dramatically fewer mistakes being made.
However, if mistakes are caught, they are typically caught at the production stage, before getting out to customers and resulting in food recalls — possibly rendering consumer or regulatory action a thing of the past.
With 94 percent of most food manufacturers currently using some form of automation in their packaging and labeling systems, and with fewer food recalls occurring as a result, it is likely that number will grow as automation becomes more and more sophisticated.