How to label allergens correctly and avoid a product recall

Apr 27, 2017 | Graham Podmore

food labelling how automation can assist in correctly labelling allergens

Reports of undeclared allergens are increasing therefore food manufacturers need to be more vigilant when it comes to food labelling and the packaging of their products.

Last year, The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported on a list on food incidents that led to product recalls. In just a three-month period, FSA issued 49 food notices, of which over half were allergy alerts, with the top undeclared allergen being milk.

An undisclosed ingredient or incorrect label is a recipe for potential disaster and failure to adhere to packaging compliance can lead to hefty fines, an expensive product recall or even worse – harm to a consumer.

The root causes of food allergen product recalls

An allergic reaction among customers is possible if you are not explicit about all the ingredients on your product. Mistakes on the packaging and labelling of a product can become downright dangerous when it comes to food packaging. So to make sure your business avoids legal and reputational ramifications, here are some of the common mistakes that lead to food product recalls that you should avoid:

  • Wrong packaging or label: This is one of the most common packaging mistakes and can happen easily, especially since packages for similar products containing different allergens are not easy to distinguish.
  • Terminology: The Ingredients list or the “contains” statement must be correct. This includes declaring all derivatives of the presence of a product (e.g. the presences of butter but not milk, or the presence of flour but not wheat).
  • Failure to carry forward information from an ingredient to final label
  • Cross-contact
  • Ingredient mislabelled from a supplier

The problem: Identification of correct food labelling on the packaging line

Knowing what to identify on labels and how to do this efficiently on the packaging line is half the problem. In such a time-pressured environment, things can be easily missed by the human eye, especially when there are multiple scenarios where errors can go unnoticed, such as:

  • A variety of packaging types, formats and artwork
  • Label reel incorrectly changes
  • Error in packaging delivered from the supplier
  • Different variations of packaging accidentally mixed together

Can you be sure that you’re using the correct artwork version, that all allergens have been declared on the packaging or that the product from the preparation area is really what you think it is when it reaches the packaging line?

(Recommended Reading: A guide to removing human error in the packaging hall)

The solution: Automation

Food Safety requires proper coding management and packaging verification. It’s unreasonable and simply naive to assume humans can and will spot every single error. This is where automation comes in. 

By using a coding and packaging verification solution, such as an AutoCoding system, you can be sure that the right packaging is being used on a product because 100% of all packaging being consumed is automatically checked. The use of 2D barcodes on packaging can give you an artwork revision control system as well

An AutoCoding system should cover the following four areas:

  1. Business System Integrator: product data is obtained from a reliable source by integration into external systems, such as ERP, MES control layer or WMS. Islands of information maintained by different departments need to be eliminated and one source of product master data created
  2. Device Set-up and Control: Integration of machines on the packaging line up into and across business IT platforms to link the production line to the product master data.
  3. Code Assurance and packaging verification: 1D and 2D online scanning is used to continuously inspect the packaging.
  4. Cross check with recipe control. Verifying the manufacturing instructions used to create the product match the packaging order being run to ensure the correct product is being put into the correct packaging

These four areas help manage the entire packaging workflow process, and therefore reduce the risk of any errors emerging on the packaging line and alerts the factory workers immediately when there is a problem.

Are you worried about the implications of incorrectly labelling allergens in your factory? Download our FREE eBook: A guide to removing human error in the packaging hall below.

guide to removing human error in the packaging hall

Topics: food labelling

Graham Podmore

Written by Graham Podmore

UK Sales Director