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Importance of Packaging Regulation For Perishables

by Eric Stefan Kandelin Koons
October 03, 2019

Perishable products are described as goods that have a short lifetime or easily deteriorate. This includes things like fresh foods, dairy products, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals [1]. This is important to keep in mind when designing packaging for perishables as they have a larger risk of spoiling than non perishable products. Furthermore, perishable products are typically consumed or used on the body, so they regularly come into contact with sensitive areas. These issues lead to perishables posing real health risks for consumers when they are improperly packaged. Governments work to prevent these health risks by implementing regulations on the requirements for packaging, storage, and shipping of perishable products.

In both the EU and USA there are government bodies that oversee how packaging for perishables are designed and produced. In the EU the European Commission is tasked with creating this legislation and in the USA the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) oversees it. Both governing bodies have similar legislation that focuses on: what can come into contact with food, manufacturing practices, use of banned substances, and material specific regulation. Additionally, they both agree that the role of food packaging is to protect food products from outside influences and damage, to contain the food, and to provide consumers with ingredient and nutritional information. If a package cannot meet these requirements it should not be allowed on the market [2,3,4].

Outside influences and damage to perishable goods come in the form of biological, chemical, and physical threats. Biological threats are what we typically hear the most about. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates around 48 million Americans get sick every year from biological contamination of food [9]. This is often due to unsanitary kitchens in homes and restaurants, but some is also caused by contaminated prepackaged foods. The three types of biological hazards are bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Bacteria are by far the most common because they can multiply very quickly and require nutrients to survive (which comes from food). Different bacteria need varying conditions to survive, but generally require temperatures between 41 - 140 degrees fahrenheit and water [5,6]. If packaging is broken or poorly designed it can let in water, leading to bacterial growth. Government regulation limiting what can come into contact with packaged foods works to prevent this issue.

Chemical and Physical threats are often easier to see than biological ones. Physical threats are mostly sharp or unwanted objects ending up inside of packaging. The largest cause of this is issues during manufacturing or weak packaging that is broken during shipping. Government regulation overseeing manufacturing and material specific issues regulates these problems. Chemical contamination can come from a variety of sources. Two of the most common sources of chemical contamination are harmful compounds found in packaging material leaching into foods and the interaction of foods with the container itself [5,6]. These are protected against by the EU and FDA’s regulations on banned substances.

Even though there is a long list of pros for governments to have strong oversight of food packaging some people still argue against it. The arguments against this type of legislation mostly stem from an economic perspective and not against the actual health protection it provides. At the broadest level people argue that too much government regulation disrupts the marketplace and picks economic winners and losers among companies. Additionally, regulations inevitably create some unintended consequences that can be very damaging. Usually stronger government oversight means more restrictions on the manufacturing process, design, and materials being used. This can negatively impact companies in many ways, like requiring the use of more expensive materials, required investments in new packaging designs, and hiring additional employees for regulatory compliance.  Each of these examples forces companies to spend more money, which they eventually have to add into the price of their product. This usually makes their product look less appealing to consumers. Lastly, It is often argued that too much regulation can make it challenging for domestic companies to compete with foreign companies from countries with more relaxed government oversight [7,8].

There is no firm line that dictates when there is too much government regulation. In the case of packaging for perishables many people believe that consumer safety is the most important factor to be considered. This means more regulation is better than less due to the high stakes for consumers. Government involvement helps prevent and reduce the risk of biological, chemical, and physical contamination. If there is too little oversight the already high number of people that get sick from foodborne illnesses will undoubtedly increase.

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References

[1] "Review of rfid applications in perishable-inventory management" (retrieved April 2019), by IGI Global. 

[2] "Chemical safety food contact materials legislation" (retrieved April 2019), by European Union.

[3] "Food Packaging Regulation in Europe (2013)", by  Charlotte Wagner

[4] "Food Packaging Regulation in the US (2013)", by  Charlotte Wagner

[5] "Food Packaging -- Roles, Materials, and Environmental Issues", by Kenneth Marsh  and Ph.D. Betty Bugusu Ph.D.

[6] "Cause and prevention of foodborne illness" (retrieved April 2019) , by College of the Environment and Life Sciences ,University of Rhode Island.

[7] "Government Regulation: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly" (retrieved April 2017), by the Regulatory Transparency Project of the Federalist Society.

 [8] “Handbook of Industrial Organization Handbook of Industrial Organization" (retrieved April 2013), by Paul L. Joskow and Nancy Lin Rose.

[9] "Burden of Foodborne Illness: Findings" (retrieved May 2019) ,  by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Topics: Metal Packaging, Caviar Packaging, Chocolates , Biscuits and Confectionery packaging, Tea, Coffee and Spices, Food packaging