Guide to food packaging security

Australian Institute of Packaging
By Pierre Pienaar FAIP*
Thursday, 15 January, 2015

Packaging security is critical to food, keeping food fresh as well as safe to eat. Packaging security encompasses everything from consumer tampering to bioterrorism to product counterfeiting.

The definition of tamper-evident packaging is: Packaging having an indicator or barrier to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible or audible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred.

Tamper evidence in packaging

Tampering involves the intentional altering of information, a product, a package or system. Solutions may involve all phases of product production, distribution, logistics, sale and use. No single solution can be considered as ‘tamper-proof’. In most cases, many levels of security need to be considered to minimise the risk of tampering.

Some considerations are:

  • Identify all feasible methods of unauthorised access into a product or package. In addition to the primary means of entry, also consider secondary or ‘back door’ methods.
  • Identify type of tampering, including what level of knowledge, materials or equipment is involved.
  • Improve the tamper resistance by making tampering more difficult.
  • Add tamper-evident features to help indicate the existence of tampering.
  • Educate consumers so they are aware of tampering.
  • Ensure that the window of opportunity for tampering is minimised.

Product packaging

Tamper-evident design is possibly most visible in product packaging and labelling, where it can be critical to know that the product has not been modified since leaving the manufacturer.

Cans of baby food were among the first cases where manufacturers were extorted by persons claiming to have added various poisons to baby food and replaced them on supermarket shelves. The threat of public fear meant that tamper-evident design principles had the potential to save a lot of money in the future.

Jars of food items soon started appearing with a metal bubble-top lid, commonly known as a ‘safety button’, which popped out if the jar had been opened and stayed flat if the jar was unopened. Customers were advised not to buy a product with a popped lid.

Newer jars of food tend to come with a plastic shrink-sleeve on the edge of the lid, which is removed when opening.

The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Crisis of 1982 involved over-the-counter medications. Due to various regulations, many manufacturers of food (and medicine) now use induction sealing to assist in providing evidence of tampering. Packaging that tears open in a ragged manner or otherwise cannot be resealed is also used to help indicate tampering.

In many cases, multiple layers or indicators are used because no single layer or device is ‘tamper-proof’. Consideration should be given to unique indicators. Ideally, these should be changed regularly to avoid counterfeiting.

End users and consumers need to be educated to keep an eye open for signs of tampering, both at the primary and secondary level of packaging.

Track and trace

Processors and their suppliers are developing a variety of packaging technologies to keep food safe from such interference and to provide fast, thorough product tracking and tracing in the event of a recall.

Covert and overt packaging techniques are developing more and more and becoming substantially more sophisticated. Covert techniques require a scanner or other device for detection. Marking packages with invisible, ultraviolet-luminescent ink is an example of covert security. Overt techniques include something visible on the package, such as a batch code or tamper-evident band.

RFID tags as a form of tamper evidence

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags consist of a tamper-evident technology to ensure that the RFID tag has not been interfered with after initial positioning on an article. If tampered with, these tags become disabled, thereby preventing use of the tags on counterfeit or substitute products. This also ensures that detecting a working tag also means identifying the original product to which it is attached. As food and beverage companies increasingly experiment with RFID to satisfy retailer demands, they are enjoying the side benefit of greater control of cases and pallets moving through the supply chain. The heightened control increases the security of products during distribution.

A fundamental reason to incorporate security features into packaging is to provide protection against vindictive tampering, or at least evidence of an attempt. Tamper-evident packages typically show visible signs of interference, such as a broken seal.

The time has come for us to commence placing tamper evidence onto any product that touches the body and ingested, inhaled or absorbed into the blood stream.

Pierre Pienaar MSc, FAIP.

*Pierre Pienaar MSc, FAIP is the Education Director of the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP). He also has his own consulting business, PackTech Solutions, that assists companies in all aspects of packaging technology and packaging engineering.

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