Top five reasons for label and packaging errors in food processing

Wayne Johnson has worked in the food industry for over 20 years, with experience on both sides of the retail fence as a technical manager for First Milk and a supermarket auditor for Somerfield. He now heads up OAL Connected helping manufacturers eliminate label and date code errors with our market leading Autocoding system. We asked him for his top five reasons for label and packaging errors in food manufacturing:

Re-post - We originally wrote this article back in 2014 on our main website - you can read the original here. Enjoy the revised edition below, which is also supported by our latest video where Faye Louch, OAL Connected's Trainer explains these reasons further.  

1. Human errors in food processing

We've all seen the trend for food retailers to implement category ranges, like 'food-to-go', so the products have unified branding. But this has created difficulties for operators ensuring the correct labels are applied to products. It's now commonplace for all products to have the same design with just one word different on the label artwork; hence it's very easy to select the wrong labels when working in the high speed, quick changeover environment of a food factory.

I have seen many errors when setting up printers, it’s all too easy to change the date and not the month or put the 32nd of a date. Although quality checks seek to prevent errors when signing off labels, these can be easily missed when you are trying to check 10 or more things as well as keeping an eye on the production line.
— Wayne Johnson, OAL Connected, Director
Top 5 Reasons for Label and Packaging Errors in Food Processing

2. Promotional activities

In most cases promotions are briefed to the production team at the last minute or packaging arrives just before production starts. This increases the pressure on the team and can lead to a lack of clarity on when the promotion was meant to start and finish. Incorrectly packing product into promotional packs after the promotion has ended can lead to retailer fines and claims for loss of income due to the wrong prices being scanned at the tills.

3. Supplier packaging errors

Packaging suppliers make errors too! Splice reels of labels or films are more common than most people think. The difficulty with this, especially due to similar artwork designs, is that it's almost impossible for operators to spot mistakes on the line. 30-minute quality checks (applying a label to a check sheet and signing it off) may catch some, but if the splice error occurs between a check and in some cases reverts back to the correct label, the error will not be noticed until the dreaded phone call from the retailer.

These errors from the suppliers can often go undetected or incorrectly identified as operator errors which may lead to misplaced disciplinary action but without the necessary evidence and it’s very hard to prove otherwise.

4. Equipment errors

If a printer goes into a “fault” state then this can usually lead to one of two things.

  1. The printer stops printing but the line carries on running. This can result in unprinted or badly printed packs. If these are not detected by the operator at the end of the line then these could go out to the customer.

  2. The date code can revert to a default setting. This has been seen on a number of printers. If this change in date is not detected then this will potentially result in a product withdrawal.

5. Last minute dot com…

The nature of the food industry means we have to respond to changes quickly, often at the last minute. Quick decisions and high production demand naturally lead to errors. Incorrect packaging being issued to the line, coupled with quick, inaccurate checks can usually lead to incorrect packaging being used.

Date code, print information required for the product needs to be accurate to ensure what is being printed on the packs is correct. Last minute information is often incorrect or misinterpreted on the shop floor resulting in the wrong date codes being printed. Usually, these are only detected by the retailer or after the production run, resulting in costly re-work.

Jake Norman