Product recalls can erode profits in the already competitive and low-margin food industry. The process of tracking affected products, contacting retailers and reclaiming the product is time consuming and expensive. Recalls also damage the reputation of the supplier, further impacting sales.
Although food manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure the safety and quality of their products, recalls are increasing by an average of eight percent each year, according to FDA figures1. More than half are caused by simple - and preventable - labeling errors. Even a simple mistake like a label missing the words "contains eggs" can trigger a product recall. According to a recent report by AMR Research, "In a six-month period last year, the Food and Drug Administration statistics include 455 product recall notices, 51 percent of which were because of mislabeling, and 13 percent were because of faulty packaging."2
These labeling errors can be hard to avoid. Most packaging teams receive ingredient, branding, artwork and customer specification data from several sources. Much of the work after that is a manual process, which increases the chance for errors. Ingredient lists may vary from plant to plant because operators manually enter information. Customer shipping requirements may not be followed because the layout of the labels can be changed without approval. All of these instances can result in fines or returned products.
Some food and beverage producers are taking a new centralized approach to increase the consistency and accuracy of packaging and labeling. Centralized management of packaging information is a big step toward increasing product surety and preventing recalls. The results can permeate the entire organization by reducing production costs and getting new products to market faster.
What can you do to increase product surety and reduce recalls?
The key to reducing product recalls is to take a holistic approach to managing the packaging process. A first step is to standardize how packaging specifications are created and managed. This will provide greater visibility into package designs across product lines. This visibility will help manufacturers to better assess their material needs on a large scale for more strategic sourcing.
Locating this packaging information in one, web-based database makes it accessible and consistent for all operations. Often packaging and labeling data is housed on local area networks in various company and supplier locations which makes it difficult to know what's out there and where to find it. An integrated packaging management solution can pull all of the package specifications, bills of materials, customer requirements and artwork into a single searchable system, making it easy for all parties to get the information they need.
A centralized database of packaging data that incorporates role-based security can greatly reduce the opportunity for error. For example, ingredient lists may vary from plant to plant because operators manually enter information. Instances where business rules and access are not controlled can result in fines or returned products. However, business rule enforcement, such as a requirement that a specific product label always contains an allergen warning, can prevent errors. Additional controls enforcing who has access and permission to make changes further supports this by preventing unauthorized alterations that might affect product surety.
Companies like 3M have developed packaging management systems that integrate packaging and labeling specifications, content, customer requirements and artwork. Packaging management solutions can help companies enforce business rules and comply with customer and regulatory requirements, while making packaging and labeling updates significantly easier and more accurate.
Thousands of food product recalls occur every year. The food industry now has tools available to enable a more proactive and preventative approach to manage or avoid recalls. Integrated packaging management can be a key component in achieving this because packaging can be the means by which product surety is enabled. Ultimately, proactive measures to ensure correct packaging can save companies millions of dollars in prevented recalls while simultaneously protecting consumers and the reputations of food manufacturers.