Reducing errors and improving compliance in food labeling

Lee Patty Food and beverage Leave a Comment

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls almost one hundred million units of food every quarter. Prepared foods are the most recalled category at 21.7%, and although most of these recalls are down to contamination, mislabeling is also a significant contributing factor.

Mislabeling recalls can be for a number of reasons. One recent example involves an undeclared allergen in ready-to-eat chicken soup products, while elsewhere, salted toffee chocolate bars were mislabeled as sea salt chocolate bars, resulting in an inaccurate ingredients listing.

Clearly, the consequences of a mislabeled allergen could be very severe, but it’s also important to reflect accurate nutritional information on a label. And while compliance may be the main driver behind this, consumers are also becoming more switched on when it comes to watching what they eat.

According to Forbes, 81% of consumers who are watching their weight read nutritional information, as do 42% who are not watching their weight. Mislabeled nutritional information could lead to consumers voting with their wallet and switching brands.         

However, complying with the new FDA nutrition facts labeling requirements will certainly be a driver for most food manufacturers in ensuring that they are compliant by the January 1, 2020 deadline.

Label changes

In 2016 the FDA announced the new nutrition facts label for packaged foods. The purpose of the changes is to update label information and add more declarations to help consumers make better food and nutrition choices.

These changes vary from increasing font sizes for calories, to adding in information for additional minerals, to amending nutritional information based on changed serving sizes.

And the presence of any allergens must be clear. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that all packaged food regulated under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFD&C), must comply by listing any major food allergens, and in the case of nuts and shellfish, the species must be declared.

But complying to regulations doesn’t have to be difficult.  Selecting a labeling system which can streamline the process and reduce the risk of errors, enables food and beverage companies to maintain quality and safety standards and reduce the number of product recalls.

In fact, companies can use this as the driver to digitally transform their whole labeling process. And understanding the market challenges and compliance requirements will ensure that food and drink manufacturers have a robust, adaptable and resilient labeling system to see them well into the future.       

Challenges in the food and beverage industry

Todays’ consumer has a much more heightened knowledge about health as well as the environment. In terms of health, customers want to look at labels and easily see how the product contributes to their overall energy, vitamin and fat intake. They are also especially interested in how ‘natural’ a product is and whether it contains artificial additives.

Closely linked to this is a requirement to know where the food comes from. The greater the food miles, the greater the contribution to global warming. Consumers are keen to support more sustainable food manufacturers as well as local farmers and producers. Providing this information on food labels can be a great differentiator.

In addition, maintaining competitiveness in the marketplace is not easy and many food manufacturers have relied on mergers and acquisitions to keep pace. However, this can result in inheriting a wide range of legacy labeling systems as well as label and direct marking printers from a variety of different manufacturers.

Barriers to standardization

These challenges can make it difficult to standardize the labeling process. For instance, some labeling systems only support label printers while some direct marking printer manufacturers only support their own brand of printers. Indeed, having so many isolated printers in the label and direct marking process doesn’t smooth the way for standardization. With such a disparate printing landscape it can, therefore, be very difficult for manufacturers to meet compliance demands let alone meet other consumer requirements.

And having such a wide range of hardware also impacts integration with Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Multi-location manufacturers often handle printer integration with the MES on the local level. This means lots of local system integrators are sub-contracted to build integrations and they have to provide local IT support. To further complicate things, many companies don’t integrate direct marking devices to business systems because the lot and expiration date information that is commonly printed is seen as minimal and not worth the complex integration. Each location might use a different integration method, making standardization and support a challenge. Local production sites might choose varying levels of integration and introduce manual data entry on standalone systems.

For those organizations that want to integrate all their labeling requirements with master data in order to respond to changing regulatory compliance and consumer demands, a modern labeling system is the answer.

Digitally transforming the labeling process

A modern label management system enables manufacturers to implement a standardized and controlled method for producing labels or marking packaging throughout the entire organization. It involves having a centralized web-based document management system where labels and history are kept. Local facilities can use templates to produce the labels they need, and all changes and updates are done centrally and pushed out to the individual factories. The most effective label management systems are able to interface with a variety of labeling and direct marking printers, regardless of manufacturer. They can also integrate direct marking and labeling with the master data in business systems to eliminate manual data entry errors. This saves companies the cost associated with reworking labels or discarding product. This decreases the upfront investment companies have to make in order to embark on the road to standardization and increases their ability to roll-out a unified label process throughout their organization. Implementing a label management system is the key to creating a more productive, agile and efficient organization.

Improving accuracy and efficiency

A disconnected label printing environment results in a time-consuming and costly process that requires users to create multiple label variations for each product which are often manually entered. This has an obvious effect on efficiencies and errors are also more likely to occur.

However, a modern label management solution allows labels to be updated from one central location and makes it easier to identify any label errors by integrating labeling with an MES or ERP system. This makes it easier for users to have ‘single-source-of-truth’ master data and allows them to preview any changes prior to printing. Modern systems also allow specific user roles and issue unique logins for each user providing greater transparency across all factories which produce the product. Therefore, when responding to new regulatory requirements, adjustments only need to be made in one place and it also saves time when new products need to be incorporated as a result of a merger or acquisition.

Improving cost efficiencies

The costs associated with the labeling process are not always easy to quantify. While the obvious ones such as the cost of the printers and software are easy to identify, the other costs associated with label change requests and quality assurance are not so obvious. However, these costs can have a dramatic impact on the bottom-line.

Implementing a label management system can save countless man-hours and increase employee productivity by using pre-made templates and streamlining the whole quality assurance process. Digitally transforming the labeling process eliminates manual data entry which drastically reduces the likelihood of errors and therefore mitigates product quarantine, recalls and scrappage, leading to cost savings.

In addition, standardizing on a system that can work across a wide range of label and marking printers, enables businesses to continue to use their existing hardware. And selecting a system with a familiar user interface, particularly one that has a Microsoft Word look and feel, means that anyone can quickly design professional labels without barcoding, design or advanced computer skills.

Cost savings can also be realized through more effective use of IT resources. Many food and beverage manufacturers use a combination of local and corporate IT support which can be difficult to coordinate on a global level. A label management system removes the IT requirement needed for coding and development as business users can use web-based interfaces to enter the document management system, and to make changes without needing to involve IT. The need for programmers is also eliminated, freeing up IT budget which can be reinvested into other parts of the manufacturing process.

Labeling for the future

Food and beverage manufacturers are under pressure to transform their businesses while improving cost efficiencies and competitiveness. Regulations are also changing and the demand for more transparency and more information on every label is not going to slow down.

However, those companies that have already implemented a modern label management solution are in an excellent position to meet the new FDA rules now and adapt to any future changes both quickly and efficiently. And in addition, it can help to reduce product recalls, reduce labeling errors, improve productivity and satisfy consumer demands.

To learn more about how your company can benefit from the digital transformation of labeling, visit www.nicelabel.com/food-beverage.

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