September 23, 2021 

Food Packaging: Printing Tips and Tricks

To ensure quality food packaging printing, workflows must be well-established, equipment must be well-kept and employees must be well-trained.

It’s easy to see the importance of traceable markings for the pre-packaged food industry. Just look at any food product in your local supermarket. On all product packaging, you’re bound to find a combination of codes, dates, and informative text.

These markings are so prevalent for multiple reasons.

For example:

  1. Expiration dates inform retailers when to pull products from shelves as well as alert consumers when the product is no longer safe for consumption.
  2. Serial numbers enhance quality control measures by enabling companies to source each product back to its original manufacturing date/batch.
  3. Barcodes are essential for inventory management as well as for completing the retail process.

Given the multi-purpose nature of these codes, they are often required by both retail outlets and supply chain partners. If the codes are misapplied or illegible, manufacturers are liable to face several costly penalties, including fines and recalls. Consequently, manufacturers must treat food packaging printing seriously.

To help food companies comply with labeling guidelines, we’ve made a quick list of the three best food printing practices. With these steps, line managers can strengthen their workflows and ensure marking success.

1. Understand the Different Properties of Each Substrate

Food packaging can be made from a variety of materials, with each form providing different levels of product protection. Some of the most common food packaging forms include:

These materials differ in ways that significantly influence printing best practices. For one, they all feature varying levels of surface porosity. Porous and non-porous materials absorb ink differently, so to ensure that codes maintain a high level of readability and longevity, line operators must use substrate-compatible ink formulas. 

Where the printer will be situated should also be considered. Flexible pouches, for example, can be marked either before or after they’re filled with product contents depending on the line setup. The before/after choice impacts the effectiveness of certain marking technologies, complicating the question of which hardware is best for the application. 

In addition, one must also consider:

  • The physical shape of the packaging.
  • Required line speed and throughput.
  • Which codes must be placed on the packaging.
  • How environmental issues may affect coding effectiveness (e.g. heat or humidity).
  • Whether the packaging will be exposed to additional processing (e.g. retorting or freezing).

With all of these different elements to evaluate, it’s always best practice to consult with a printing expert before buying a line printer. By consulting with a trusted industrial printing company, businesses can find the best equipment to fit their needs and avoid any potential coding problems. 

2. Make the Printing Process Easily Repeatable through Documentation and Training

By consulting with a printing expert, food packaging companies can also receive help in creating easily repeatable workflows.  

Modern coding technologies like continuous inkjet printers, thermal inkjet printers, and thermal transfer overprinters already lend themselves well to repeatability. As digital printing systems, they can all be integrated into larger IT systems to pull label information as well as enable remote operation. With each of these hardware options, operators can create workflows that lead to consistently high-quality codes that can be repeated indefinitely—that is, as long as workers follow the program. 

To ensure that all workers understand how they contribute to overall line effectiveness, we recommend:

  • Thoroughly documenting the entire marking process: After consulting with an expert to develop a workflow, it’s essential to document every part of the marking process. Once established, it’s important to display the steps in a prominent location where workers will be able to quickly reference them. One reliable approach is to laminate a workflow sheet and post it on a wall. This method also provides a space to display any regularly required maintenance steps (e.g. wiping away ink buildup, flushing nozzles, or cleaning the printhead).
  • Investing in employee training: When working with an established workflow, it’s important to instruct all employees on how to follow each step as well as help them understand why each action is important. With this kind of quality instruction, employees will see why daily operations are set up the way they are, putting them on the path towards maximum efficiency and safety. 
  • Nominating a Head of Printing: Even with the actions outlined above, additional questions are inevitable. To ensure that all workers have someone to turn to for quick answers, we suggest nominating a single worker as a “printing guru” for each working shift. This person should understand the ins and outs of the printing system, how it works, and why the workflow is set up the way it is. With this level of knowledge, other workers have someone they can trust to rely on when problems arise. 

3. Purchase a Backup Printer to Maximize Uptime

In an industry like food packaging, reliable daily output is a must. Large production companies need to meet quotas to prevent product shortages and comply with retail supplier agreements. Considering these requirements, most companies can’t afford periods of profit-draining downtime. 

To maximize uptime, operators must keep marking equipment in top shape through regular maintenance and responsible usage. Additionally, companies can further protect themselves against downtime by purchasing a backup printer. In the case of equipment failure, workers can install the backup printer on the line to maintain production while scheduling repair services for the malfunctioning hardware. 

Food Packaging Printing: An Essential Part of Food Production

For those in food production, maintaining high code quality is crucial to complying with guidelines set by both supply chain partners and federal regulators. To ensure quality food packaging printing, workflows must be well-established, equipment must be well-kept and employees must be well-trained. While this takes time and capital to achieve, it leads to upticks in productivity and helps avoid costly logistical errors.

Want to learn more about food packaging printing? Stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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