Packaging and Labelling of Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals
Rohini S
Food Scientist
NutriParadise Foods

You might not pay attention to the packaging of a product, but the absence of it, or the bad quality of it will definitely be noticed. Packaging of any product is a multifaceted process that helps in safeguarding the product from the moment it is packed, ensures branding and recognition. In the medical and Pharma world specifically, there are more nuances to keep in mind while designing and manufacturing packaging materials.

Pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals require critical packaging. There are key metrics to be kept in mind and followed for these products to ensure adherence to quality control metrics, safety, ease of handling, ensuring longevity - before and after opening the seal.

Let's consider the case of certain nutraceuticals that contain bioactive compounds. The packaging needs to sure that the product is microbiologically safe with easy accessibility throughout the processing and storage phase. In the case of nutraceutical beverages, it becomes more critical to ensure proper sealing even after the product is opened.

Recent research has enabled the implementation of dispenser-cap made of polycarbonate and tritan for beverages. In these type of caps, the dry premix for the beverage is filled in the cap and sealed. This is particularly advantageous because the ready beverage containing nutrients and bioactive components may be prone to microbial spoilage and deterioration with time. When dispensing caps are employed, the ingredients are dispensed into the liquid while opening the bottle and the drink is made freshly just before consumption. This can also be a great way to preserve the bioactivity of a photosensitive ingredient since it won't be exposed to sunlight at all.

In recent times, packaging has also evolved to consider single serves more, since this reduces the risk of contamination and in case of pharmaceuticals, the dosage can be easily monitored.

Pharmaceuticals have to keep mind the potential pollutants and QC Checks. In nutraceuticals, the company has to keep in mind the potential consumer brand image, eco-friendliness of the packaging, sustainability and more. The consumer, who would not particularly delve on these aspects in a tablet, would consider this quite strongly in nutraceuticals.

New Forms of Packaging

Plastic, which was the go-to favourite for packaging various food and drink items has slowly evolved to include various ecofriendly options. It is vastly prevalent in the market, and the consumer behaviour typically leans towards reusing these plastic objects instead of safe disposal.

Several companies are replacing plastic with 'edible packaging', which is more ecofriendly as well. Smoothies and other drinks can be primarily packaged in such material, which has low oxygen and moisture permeability. Then these edible pouches are laid down in a secondary pouch made of metalized polyethylene terephthalate, which protects the edible packaging from external factors and keeps the product intact. This method ensures reduction of packaging material that must be disposed

Edible packages are also impregnated with antimicrobials to enhance the safety, with flavors, bioactive compounds for sustained release, antioxidants to preserve the product can also be used to increase the quality and shelf life of the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.

Pharma and nutraceuticals are also increasingly using 'smart package systems'. Intelligent sensors used in the packaging systems indicate the status of the product inside by various mechanisms. The indicators detect the volatile compounds produced by the products, especially in beverages and syrups, to assess the quality and freshness. The packaging is designed to change colours, or embedded with a sensor strip to indicate changes in the status of the product .

This is especially useful in pharmaceutical packaging and can prevent the fatal mistake of consumption of expired drugs leading to serious consequences. Some products have begun to include temperature sensors, which change color based on the storage temperature and helps in monitoring the shelf-life of the product .

The idea of incorporation of gas concentration indicators in gas flushed functional products has been conceptualized in the company in the interest of consumer safety. These indicators detect the concentration of gases such as oxygen and nitrogen flushed inside the packaging for better shelf life. This may help consumers to choose the best product to pick up from the shelves. Biosensors such as polydiacetylenes are to be used in some products in the coming years to make it easier for consumers to find out microbial contamination and spoilage of the products.

Microbiological safety and least cross contamination even during consumption of the product are of utmost importance when it comes to convenient therapeutic products. Self-heating pouches come in handy when ready-to-cook therapeutic products are to be cooked without taking them out.

The concept is essentially based on a simple exothermic reaction. A layer of salt is placed between two layers of metalized polyethylene terephthalate. Water can be added through a nozzle, strategically placed on the top. When the water is poured on the salt, exothermic reaction takes place which heats up the pouch cooking the product inside. This will minimize the cross contamination that might happen while transferring products to utensils and during cooking. It is also quite convenient for the patients admitted in hospitals as well as at home to not bother with cooking and straining themselves for the sake of having nutritious food.

Automation and application of robotics to conserve microbial safety are swaying especially the convenient-therapeutic food and pharmaceutical industries as they attest for quality, safety and efficiency. Complete automation of manufacturing and packaging processes can minimize errors and enhance accuracy. Reduction of headcount in the manufacturing area can greatly reduce the risks of contamination and hazards. This can be accomplished by employing robots instead of human resource in manufacturing units which can be sterilized regularly to practice good manufacturing practices.

Labeling

Despite all the care taken during packaging, labelling becomes an essential part of completing the process. Packaging and labeling have a major hand in appealing to the consumer by showing off the sophistication, assuring safety and promising wholesomeness. A proper labeling can have a magnetic effect on the buyer with the information provided. Increasing health consciousness and awareness in the field of pharma and nutraceuticals are demanding for thorough and detailed labeling. This creates a sense of trust in the consumer and promotes brand loyalty. An attractive and relevant packaging can drive the consumer to buy the product but only the efficiency of the packaging material can force him to stay with brand. Packaging and labeling are the most powerful salesmen one can have. They speak of the products and market them without voice but they can be louder than any representative when they are designed the bes .

World is transforming into a highly developed place calling for advancement in every field. Packaging technology is growing at lightning speed alongside futuristic product development. Innovation and creativity have made way for inventions that once were thought impossible. Aim to make everything convenient, nature friendly and long lasting has opened doors to development of technologies which make life easier. Development in the field of packaging technology is never ending as long as there is product development. It is also equally true that advances in packaging technology have made it possible to design products in a better and innovative way. It has also aided in delivering the best quality products in every field.

Pharma labelling is more critical, with manufacturers having to comply with the latest QC checks and regulations. The industry is a mix of functional performance requirements, compliance, meeting multicultural demands and brand positioning. And then the most critical function - establishing the validity of the product and avoiding counterfeits.

Labelling in the nutraceutical industry is still growing. Nutraceuticals are catching on in the B2C segment as people grow more consciousness about their lifestyles and health. Newer classifications are required almost every few months, adding more product categories, changing guidelines and more. Labelling in this industry is a lot more strict since these are not needbased products and indulge in marketing to entice the potential customer. The product has to be packaged attractively, and labeled such as to attract the customer and make them believe there is a need for the product without misleading them. Guidelines regarding nutraceutical labels are yet evolving in India

There are more regulations for labelling nutraceuticals than even 5 years ago, but there is a long way to go. Food safety certifications apart, there needs to be an entity to pass the labelling for nutraceuticals as well. The Food & Safety Authority of India has issued various guidelines for nutraceuticals. But as we evolve and process more products in this category, and the competition in this field heats up, changes are inevitable.