Pre-packaged commodities are estimated to account for more than 75 percent of the total value of traded commodities worldwide. Internationally accepted packaging regulations focus on ensuring packages contain, on average, at least the stipulated weight printed on the package. Within Europe this is the ‘e’ weight. Over-weight is acceptable within the regulations, but clearly this affects companies’ profits in terms of lost/wasted product and increased air freight charges. Therefore, packers exporting to Europe need to ensure their packaging system complies with the relevant legislation, while keeping giveaway to a minimum. This can be a difficult task when individual constituents of the packages (e.g. strawberries) vary considerably in weight.
European Status Quo
The 'e' mark is used on a label to indicate that the product has been packed according to the requirements of the European Communities average weight rules.
Member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) implemented the Council Directives 75/106/EEC of Dec. 19, 1974 and 76/211/EEC of Jan. 20, 1976 in their national legislation. These directives dealt with the marking and quantity requirements for e-marked prepackages. Subsequently these directives have been amended by Directive 2007/45/EC of 5 September 2007, which revokes Directives 75/106/EEC and 80/232/EECand amends Directive 76/211/EEC. The only products which now have to be made up in specified nominal quantities, without specified time limit, are stipulated wines and spirits.
What constitutes a package under the Regulations?
For the purposes of the Regulations, a “package” is defined as the combination of a product and the individual package in which it is packed when:
- The product is placed in a package of whatever nature without the purchaser being present
- The quantity cannot be altered without the package either being opened or undergoing a perceptible modification
The Regulations apply this system to all packages intended for sale in constant nominal quantities which are between 5 g or 5 ml and 25 kg or 25 Liter, inclusive.
The Average Weight System
The Average Weight System has, for all intents and purposes, replaced the older weights and measures Minimum Weight system. It is considered to be more practical to implement, while providing robust protection for the consumer.
The average system applies to most goods which are pre-packed in pre-determined quantities by weight or volume, including most foodstuffs and non-foodstuffs. Its aim is to provide a defined regulatory framework for the filling of packages. A degree of variation in the content of the packages is inherent in all such processes; the aim of the average system is to define acceptable tolerances for that variation, so that the purchasers may buy with the confidence that they are protected against short weight or measure, while businesses are protected against unfair competition. As its name suggests, the average system allows a proportion of packages to fall below their stated quantity, but only within a specified tolerance. With regard to labeling, products packed according to the average weight system may use the 'e' mark when the nominal quantity is in the range 5 g to10 kg (or 5 ml to 10 Liter).
Underpinning the average weight system are the so-called mandatory Three Packers’ Rules. The checks that packers and importers carry out need to be ‘sufficiently rigorous’ to ensure the packages are packed to meet the three packers’ rules. This implies the system should be as efficient as a reference test to control the average quantity and the proportion of packages with a deficiency of more than the TNE (Tolerable Negative Error).
The Three Packers’ Rules specify that a batch of packages must, at the time of packing, comply with the following:
- The actual contents of the packages must not be less, on average, than the nominal specified pack weight
- The proportion of packages which are short of the stated weight by a defined amount (the TNE) should be less than a specified level (This proportion approximates to no more than 2.5 percent (1 in 40) of packages
- No package can be underweight by more than twice the TNE.
The allowable Tolerable Negative Error values for packages are given below:
Nominal pack weight - g
Tolerable Negative Error
% of nominal package weight
Weight - g
Packers and importersof packaged goods sold in Europe have a duty to carry out sufficiently rigorous checks to ensure that all of the three packers’ rules are met. This means that they should establish a system that:
- Controls the production process
- Sets up effective sampling and checking plans
- Uses appropriate equipment for checking
- Trains staff
- Keeps appropriate records
Packers and importers have a duty to check the quantity of the packages, either:
- By checking every package on suitable equipment (e.g. an automatic checkweigher)
- By checking a statistical sample of the production on suitable equipment and keeping records of the results
Packers may use whatever quantity control and checking procedures they find convenient, so long as these are sufficiently rigorous to ensure compliance with the Three Rules.
In the design of the packaging system, it is recommended that the following issues are addressed:
- For processes controlled by sampling, the sampling plan should be specified and the target quantity and control limits set appropriately
- For packing lines controlled by checkweighers, the set points should be appropriate
- Checking or measuring equipment should be properly maintained, checked and calibrated
- The system should be formalized and reviewed regularly for its appropriateness
- The system should specify the training for staff to ensure that the system is adequately implemented
Clearly any packaging system which consistently ensures target pack weights are optimized with minimum giveaway brings significant benefits to packers. Commercial pressures mandate that such systems must not have any negative impact on productivity, must be simple for non-skilled operators to use and, ultimately, provide realistic return on investment, preferably within the first few months of operation.