The correct labeling of food in terms of nutritional information and allergens is critical for the food and beverage industry, not just in ensuring manufacturers and retailers comply with relevant guidelines and legislation, but also in ensuring the safety of consumers.
The European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) that came into effect at the end of 2014 governs the way information about food and allergens is conveyed to the public.
According to the FoodStandards Agency, the body that enforces these rules in the UK,businesses that work with food have “a legal responsibility to provide the correct allergen information about the ingredients that is in the food you make or serve, to your customer.” The correct labeling of this food is vital as food allergies can cause illness and in some extreme cases can lead to death.
As a result, the issue of allergens labeling is a contentious one, and something that has been highlighted in the media following a series of high-profile incidents.
While keeping consumers safe is a top priority, is enough being done to ensure businesses are following the guidelines and are these guidelines comprehensive enough? Yes, the UK’s Food Standards Agency has specific guidelines around how food is labeled. But there is a difference between pre-packaged food, which needs clear labels listing ingredients and allergens on the packaging, and‘loose’ foods (such as items wrapped on-site, including sandwiches and bakery items) where allergen warnings need to be displayed on the shelf-edge or conveyed verbally to consumers.
Times are changing, as seen in the new regulations set out in the EU FIC and more recently country-specific changes based on specific cases. There is renewed focus on tightening the law on allergens labeling in both the UK and the US. For the UK, whether those changes are incremental, small, large, or happen at all remains to be seen. For the US, however, nutritional labeling is being overhauled by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and by 2020 (or 2021 depending on business size) the labels will look completely different, aiming to make information clearer to consumers and include new declarations and vitamin requirements to lower the risk of chronic diseases.
Regardless which side of the pond food and beverage companies find themselves on, the fact remains that they need to be able to not only comply with current legislation but be agile enough to deal with future changes.
The challenge for many retailers lies in ensuring the accuracy of the labeling while balancing cost and customer safety. This is especially true for small businesses or those part of a nationwide network. The linchpin in all of this is the labeling process and the technology used to support it. From the design and quality assurance of labels, to printing, the process can be fraught with issues.
The key ingredient for labeling is that the actual allergens, such as wheat, egg, nuts and soy, must be easy to see on the label. This often takes the form of underlining the particular ingredients, putting them in bold or using different colors. The process of designing such labels can be complex — especially if they need to be accessed and printed by different users across a store or franchise network.
Many label design systems fall into the remit of IT, which means limited people have access to the systems and businesses may lack the ability to design or make changes to labels quickly. In addition, the quality assurance process is critical, but can add a roadblock to getting labels to end users quickly and effectively. A label management system can make it easier for all users (with the right access and permissions) to design labels and make changes to existing labels — speeding up time to market and ensuring the process is as streamlined as possible. This is especially important for food and beverage retailers with multiple stores stretched across the county.
Label management systems also include the functionality to automate the quality assurance process which makes the design and printing process that much quicker. It also makes the process more accurate, less prone to errors and removes the risk of printing incorrect information, vital in the food and beverage market. Alongside this automation is audit trail functionality to demonstrate who made which changes and to what labels – again, a critical part in ensuring traceability, security and compliance.
A label management system also makes the change process easier; for the most part labels can be managed from a central location (like head office) amended according to requirements, and then accessed by staff in stores across the country. In this way, they are assured that the labels they are printing and using are based on the latest, most accurate information, again a critical factor for food and allergens labeling.
Going forward businesses will continue to face the usual challenges around increased competition, meeting regulations and retaining customers. When it comes to labeling, however, the stakes are even higher. Food and beverage companies need to be agile enough to adapt to changes in the market, and have the most effective processes in place to ensure labels are accurate, available and compliant. Whether that means implementing an on-premise label management system or turning to the cloud for help, the outcome is the same: better labeling and better safety for consumers.
To learn more about how NiceLabel can benefit food and beverage companies of all sizes, visit our website at www.nicelabel.com/food-beverage.