Spotlight: Accurate labelling and coding systems for confectionery can prevent costly recalls
With today’s complex supply chain caused by changing industry processes and the consumer demand for global goods, one of the most significant challenges facing confectionery manufacturers is how to produce food that is safe. Confectionery Production considers the challenges in labelling and coding, and how technology can help to prevent costly recalls. Daisy Phillipson reports
Media reports show a recent spate of recalls relating to food and drink products across the globe, including in the confectionery and bakery sectors. Recalls of unsafe food products in the UK jumped by 40 per cent in 2018, and this figure continues to rise alongside concerns over poorly-labelled items causing allergen-related illness and even death.
Beyond putting a customer at risk, having to remove a batch from the shelves due to safety issues costs a manufacturer thousands of pounds and can have devastating consequences for their brand reputation. In the context of product labelling, the most common causes of recalls are mistakes relating to allergen declaration, expiry dates and foreign language.
The increased societal and media awareness of these complex issues has led to stricter regulations. In the UK, for example, a new law was recently introduced that will require more foods to be labelled with allergen information. The law comes into effect in October, 2021. The EU regulation 1169/2011 requires legibility of information on labels, alongside clear and mandatory allergen and certain nutritional information.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food industry is dropping its safety standards. In fact, the opposite is the case, with experts stating that the rise in recalls is just evidence that the sector is on the right track. Although there’s no definite cause of such widespread growth in recalls, certain factors that are believed to contribute include technology with better tracing, tracking and detection capabilities, the increasing complexity of the global supply chain and manufacturing processes and, as discussed, stricter regulatory controls.
So, how is a manufacturer able to comply with legal requirements and avoid a safety alert or recall? Labelling and coding equipment play a vital role in preventing such issues. It is imperative that the technologies used for this process are reliable and versatile, in order to adapt to smaller batch cycles and changing production lines. They must be capable of producing labels with information such as dates, batch codes and other identifiers that are clear, accurate and meet regulatory requirements. This equipment is also integral to implementing whole-chain traceability, providing a roadmap for determining the source of the issue.
Traceability for supply chain visibility
Discussing the importance of traceability in the reduction of product recalls and assurance of consumer confidence is Andy Zosel, president and CEO at Omron Microscan, and Kenta Yamakawa, senior vice president. In their exploration into how the breadth and scope of traceability has expanded significantly over the years along with advances in technology, the pair explain how it is a ubiquitous and critical application for today’s food manufacturers, including those in the confectionery and bakery segments.
Identifying four key areas to describe current and future phases of traceability in a global context, Zosel and Yamakawa note the second stage to be supply chain visibility. After barcodes were recognised for purposes beyond their application to manufactured items, comprehensive tracking for the purpose of optimising inventory management and reducing cost became possible, they explain. “At the same time, consumers became more quality and health conscious, and the media became more aggressive in responding to product quality issues.”
As discussed, whether a supplier, manufacturer or consumer, no one wants to be involved in a product recall due to the issues and costs it can cause. According to industry reports, baked goods are the third most common food type for recalls with 12 per cent, while nuts and sweets take up 10 per cent of the total amount, ranking fifth.
There are four distinct areas that incur costs when it comes to a withdrawal, including investigating and addressing the cause, assembling a crisis team, removing the product from the market and then managing the PR. But there are indirect costs to factor in too, such as stock deadlines, legal fees, loss of sales and, perhaps most damaging of all, negative brand reputation. While most companies that suffer a recall are able to overcome the incident, new technologies and strategies are being utilised to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Zosel and Yamakawa explain that the demand for supply chain visibility has skyrocketed as a result, largely to address this issue and broader social needs and awareness. “It enables targeted product recalls according to date and lot codes. This reduces the cost of quality improvement and also increases consumer confidence, as manufacturers can now pinpoint the source of the problem within their processes.”
In solutions for labelling and coding food products, one of the key challenges for manufacturers is how to address the need for traceability and safety when dealing with late stage customisation with batch sizes as small as one. The trend for individualisation is one that continues to grow among the confectionery and bakery sectors, presenting challenges when it comes to labelling each batch.
To overcome these issues, labelling machines expert Herma recently launched its PA8 4C Print & Apply System. The solution allows for full colour, edge-to-edge print on white labels and the exact assignment of each completely individualised label to the respective packaging unit, which the company says meets the demands of personalisation, efficiency and market demands.
Another important aspect of the labelling and coding process is verification, as diligent label confirmation will help ensure that mislabeling mistakes don’t occur. With this in mind, this year equipment specialist Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection unveiled two new Product Data Check technology options to be integrated into existing C-Series checkweighers.
As the company revealed, the new vision inspection add-ons allow manufacturers, including those within the confectionery and snacks markets, to incorporate fully integrated smart camera technology into their production lines to verify the presence of correct labels. Consequently, manufacturers can reject incorrectly labelled packaged products, helping to minimise the risk of product recalls plus protect brand integrity and profits from avoidable product loss.
As well as minimising the rework time staff spend on mislabelled products and reducing costly waste, the new technology checks labels for information including Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and Optical Character Verification (OCV), alphanumeric text and 1D and 2D code identification.
The Product Data Check inspects a wide range of languages and checks for bolded listed ingredients, such as allergens, to ensure food safety and compliance with the EU Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC. “Recalls and rework due to mislabelled products is an easily prevented issue,” says Jürgen Kress, head of checkweighing and vision inspection for Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection. “That is why we wanted to give manufacturers an easy way to add product data verification to their existing Mettler-Toledo equipment to provide extra quality control with minimal use of production line space.”
Meeting the requirements
For those seeking to branch out to new territories, the challenges of labelling become even greater as manufacturers must meet the different intricacies that come with each country. As outlined by Kimberly Carey Coffin, global technical director of supply chain assurance at Lloyd’s Register, when you throw in country-specific labelling regulations, confectionery manufacturers face the real prospect of product recalls.
In terms of allergens, not all of those identified are universal. Illustrating the different regulations across the globe, Coffin explains: “While the UK marks mustard and celery as allergens, Australia does not. Instead, products going into Australia must disclose the presence of lupin. In China, nut cross contamination risk is not commonly disclosed on prepacked food, highlighting the challenges facing global producers.”
Coffin went on to discuss the impact Barcodes have become increasingly important in labelling management, says Omron mislabelling can have, with negative implications including nationwide product recalls, leading to unwanted headlines, consumer safety concerns and a negative impact on brand reputation. It could also lead to denied entry at customs, legal sanctions and repackaging, all of which will add significant expenses. What can a confectionery supplier do to eliminate these risks? “It might seem simple, but listing out the different regions and individual requirements should be the first steps taken,” says Coffin. “Having this understanding will ensure that manufacturers are prepared when looking to market into different countries.”
Although this can be a difficult and timely task due to the complex legalities involved, confectionery manufacturers can also utilise food label advisory services. Lloyd’s Register, for example, recently teamed up with legal experts in the food and beverage market to provide manufacturers and retailers with support throughout this process with everything from identifying local requirements to ensuring translations are accurate and correct.
Whether you’re investing in a new labelling and coding system or you’re looking to venture overseas, seeking qualified and experienced industry professionals and technology providers to assist with the procedure will pay dividends in the long run. It could be the difference between running into a costly recall or gaining a reputation as a brand that takes food safety and quality seriously