Product Packaging and Labeling
Shruti Kumbla
Senior Nutritionist
Pristine Organics Pvt. Ltd

In recent times, it has become quite straightforward to understand which attribute on the packaging the consumer will shell out more money. The packaging speaks for quality, safety of the food and environment. The increased awareness of environmental conservation and the escalating rate of foodborne illnesses have driven the food industry to implement a more innovative solution, i.e. bioactive packaging.

Packaging material has evolved in past 20000 years. The usage of indigenous natural material such as hollow logs, leaves, shells, earthen pots were used to transport the food to smaller distances. Subsequently in 1950's the use of metals, paper, heat shrinkable plastic came in existence.

Plastic as a material has evolved with leaps and bounds to different texture of the packaging material. BPA (Bisphenol A) an industrial chemical used in certain plastic and resins since 1960's. Substantial amount of scientific evidence show ill effects of BPA in human health. More manufacturers are producing and labelling BPA free products. If a product isn't labeled BPA free, keep in mind that some, but not all, plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.

In this argument of BPA, India has forgotten another chemical phthalate that are used to increase the flexibility of plastic. Scientific evidences show the effect on reproductive system in the presence of phthalates. As per European and UK regulatory bodies, tolerable safety limits are put in place for presence of phthalates in food. Although the issue of phthalates in the form polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging was ignited in India in the year 2016, no substantial regulation has been put in place in this regard. The threats of few packaging technology to health has enforced large MNC's like Coco Cola to go back to glass bottle packing from plastic bottles.

Innovative Packaging

Tetra Pak is one of the most efficacious innovation that keeps us amazed the way it maintains the shelf life of the most perishable food item like milk. Unlike traditional inert packaging, active modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) has received a lot of focus in recent years.

Active MAP packaging includes oxygen scavenging packaging, humidity- controlled packaging, antibacterial packaging and spontaneous modified atmosphere packaging. Intelligent food packaging is an upcoming technology which involves the ability to sense or measure an attribute of the product, the inner atmosphere of the package or the shipping environment. Intelligent packaging involves indicators, radio frequency identification tags (RFIT) and sensors. This helps in maintaining product food safety, quality and improves the efficiency of supply chain management.

The bioplastic materials are more encouraging in the packaging industry when compared to the petrochemical based plastics. More awareness towards environment friendly issues, food packaging industry is constantly innovating new biodegradable materials. Starch based biodegradable packaging material are under research to make its application more feasible in the commercial market.

A very interesting innovative research was conducted to produce photo-producible and photo-degradable starch bio-nanocomposite as a packaging material. Now we really know, environment safety has led to more innovation towards biodegradable packaging material which will pose less horrendous impact to the environment and health

Scientific research on the production, quality and potential applications of edible/ biodegradable films in food manufacturing has been carried out by several research groups worldwide and has been reported in research publications . Edible films formed from whey protein concentrate, alginate, pectin, carrageenan is under trials for commercial purpose.

Food Labelling

Food labelling generally means putting information on food packaging, labels or collective packaging, which concerns the food packed. This information takes the form of words, letters, logos, images, figures or symbols and may refer to the shelf-life of the product, ways of preparation, consumption, nutritional value or other commercial aspects.

The confusion between Best Before and Use by date still exists among the consumers. As per FSSAI, Best before means the date which signifies the end of the period under any stated storage conditions during which the food retains the specific qualities which have been claimed. Beyond the date, the food remains safe for consumption, though its quality may have diminished. Use by date or Expiry date means the date which signifies the end of the estimated period under any storage conditions, after which the food will not be safe for consumption.

Internationally, color code system is adopted in mentioning the nutrition information table. These color codes are specifically denoted for fats, green means low. This will allow the consumer to see at glance if the food choices made are the healthier option. The consumption of hidden sugar and salt have risen above the limits of WHO guidelines. This system will keep the consumer be more informed.

Time temperature indicators gives information on the temperature and shows the variation and history in temperature, visualized as a color change. The commercial available brands are, Fresh Check, VITSAB, MonitorMask (3M). On- VuTM label is one of the temperature indicator. Radio frequency Identification Tags (RFIT) is a new revolutionary data information carrier in comparison to the existing bar code system. RFIT uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information. Passive tags collect energy from a nearby RFID reader's interrogating radio waves. Active tags have a local power source (such as a battery) and may operate hundreds of meters from the RFID reader. Unlike a barcode, the tag need not be within the line of sight of the reader, so it may be embedded in the tracked object. RFID is one method for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC).

Conclusion

Packaging was traditionally understood as a means of protecting a product in the process of distribution, transport or storage. However, currently, it is increasingly becoming an effective way to communicate with the environment. On the one hand, it is a consequence of development of various forms of self -service sales and on the other hand, of the growing consumer demand for information because of the growing nutritional awareness.

Therefore, beside protective or transport functions, packaging must fulfil the information function, particularly in conditions of a limited involvement of sales staff in trade. Food packaging is an essential marketing tool, the importance of which is reflected both in the performed functions and the role in the process of making decision on purchase by consumers. It is worth remembering that the first contact of a consumer with a product occurs mostly through packaging. The characteristics of packaging often determine the interest in the product.

The new innovative packaging helps in improving the food safety and quality. Labelling of products is crucial for ensuring security and reliable nutrition information for consumers. Due to the increasing awareness of the relationship between diet and health, it induces consumers to look for nutrition information and helps to make the right choices, while buying food products. Innovative color code labeling incorporated in the west is the new beginning towards making the consumer an informed buyer.