Modern food packaging is convenient, eye catching, functional and designed to not only keep the contents fresh for extended periods of time, but also to protect them from contamination. Despite the fact that the food industry is now one of the most regulated, and one would expect, the safest, there are still many examples in the media every year of accidental and, the more sinister alternative, deliberate, contamination of packaged food. The consequences for consumers can be anything from mildly irritating to a life threatening allergic reaction, particularly in cases where the substance has been ingested by a small child.
Packaging suppliers have been constantly working towards the improvement of food packaging product features to eliminate these contamination issues. The reputation of their company is on the line with every discovery of a foreign substance in any packaged product, and the investigations that follow such a discovery are costly, time-consuming and, more often than not, fruitless.
Often the offending object has entered the chain in the food itself, when the food product is being manufactured, and has been encased in the packaging by an automated process which is the responsibility of the food manufacturer and not the packaging supplier. All avenues must be investigated however, and the manufacturing process for the packaging will be scrutinized, the equipment checked and quality processes validated to ensure that there is no possibility of a contaminant entering the chain via the packaging.
In addition to the extra scrutiny over and above the routine batch checking that occurs in most manufacturing processes, the packaging suppliers must also ensure that there are adequate disclosures printed on the outside of the packaging to alert consumers to any potential health threat. The most common of these disclosures are food products that can cause allergic reactions in certain people.
The medical profession is not certain of the cause, but the range and severity of allergies is increasing each year, and there are now more people taking preventative medicines for allergies than at any time in medical history. There are some allergens that are repeat offenders, and some that pop up unexpectedly every now and then. Peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, finned fish, milk, eggs, sesame, soy beans and wheat are the most common and are specifically mentioned on the Food Standards Code and related web sites.
If there is any possibility that minute quantities of contaminants, such as peanuts for example, may have come in contact with food packaging, even by the packaging going through a machine that previously was used in making peanut based foods, it must now display a warning. It is important that consumers contact food packaging suppliers when unsure of the level of danger being faced with packaged foods.