Innovation in Packaging
Ensuring safety in the ever-changing food packaging industry
30 June 2020
Food packaging has come a long way since the early days of glass bottles and tin cans. As manufacturers continue to expand the variety of food and beverage products that we consume, the way in which we receive these products has evolved—and continues to evolve—accordingly.
Packaging has changed in countless ways since the very first processed foods became commonly available to consumers over a century ago. The impetus for these changes came from a myriad of sources including product changes, new materials, manufacturing improvements, and consumer preferences, to name a few. Additionally, in the last decade or so, a heavy focus has been placed on sustainability in packaging, as consumer awareness of ecological conditions has grown more prevalent. As manufacturers continue to innovate their products and how they are packaged, a critical aspect that must be kept in mind is the safety and protection against hazards.
One of the more difficult to quantify aspects of packaging safety is what is known as foreseeable use—i.e., the way in which consumers will use and interact with products. While most packaging will be used as intended, some consumers may also use the packaging in novel and unique ways that may differ from the intended use. The burden of predicting these novel and unique uses, and protecting against negative consequences associated with such uses, can fall back on the manufacturer, which is why they must seek to identify and understand these possible scenarios as early as possible. A manufacturer may want to ask such things like Does the spout or molding of the product encourage a consumer to tip the product from the package straight into their mouth? Does that consumption behavior introduce any new kinds of hazards? Are consumers being encouraged to eat the packaging as an intended use of the product? Could a material change even on a ubiquitous product, such as from a plastic straw to paper, affect the potential hazards or risks of the product? As we know consumers are likely to chew on straws, perhaps a material change from plastic to paper might give rise to new concerns such as small parts releasing from the new paper straw. This type of thinking encourages designers to ask questions about how the product interaction differs from the "intended" mode, which should then spur discussions about how to ensure foreseeable uses are safe for consumers.
As mentioned, sustainability is becoming more and more of a glaring point of focus for the food packaging industry. Plastics have been nearly omnipresent in the packaged food industry as a lighter, cheaper, and more manufacturable alternative to tin, glass, or aluminum packaging. However, as their toll on the global ecosystem is becoming more and more apparent, plastic materials are coming under increased scrutiny, and many packaging companies are working diligently to find eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics. Some companies are redesigning food packaging to include less plastic, while others are adopting sustainable alternatives like paper or bamboo. Some are even beginning to experiment with entirely edible packages such as food films, edible bags, and even cutlery! With all these new materials, form factors, and designs entering the space, it is as important as ever to keep an eye on how the safety of consumers can be affected.
There are several reasons for developing new packaging or updating packaging with which consumers are already familiar. With these changes comes the possibility for hazards to present themselves to consumers—hazards such as choking, laceration, aspiration, or internal obstruction. These hazards can be considered, and often eradicated, when developing new forms of packaging. Having your food packaging assessed by Intertek will provide valuable insight into understanding and mitigating potential packaging hazards that will enhance your brand protection and consumer safety. To learn more, visit https://www.intertek.com/product-assurance/safety/