An In-Depth Look at Food Packaging Standards

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woman reading food labels at grocery store

Many factors go into food safety and impact how food packaging plants design and use packaging to protect consumers. A number of food packaging standards set these guidelines for the industry. But what criteria must packaging meet before any food product reaches grocery store shelves?

Discover all of the food packaging standards industry professionals must follow with this in-depth guide. Learn about the many legal requirements food manufacturers need to include, the common types of packaging materials, and more. If you need modern food packaging solutions that meet every standard, use high-performance equipment from TDI Packsys.

What Are the General Requirements of Food Packaging?

Those within the food packaging industry must meet a minimum set of criteria that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets. These requirements include basic information like the product name, the manufacturer’s address, and an expiration or “best by” date. In addition, packages must label the nutritional content, weight, ingredients, and any food additives within the product.

Certain food products containing meat need additional information in line with regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These requirements include an inspection legend, a signature line, and instructions for safe cooking and handling.

All of these requirements exist so that consumers have full transparency about the foods they eat. They can clearly see how much the suggested serving size is and how that impacts their dietary needs, as well as how long the product’s shelf life is and whether the food contains any potentially harmful ingredients. If any contaminants are in the food and pose a danger to others, consumers can easily access the manufacturer’s information directly on the package.

Nutritional Labeling

nutrition label in canned food with blurred fruit salad

All food products come with a nutrition label that informs consumers about the food’s contents. This label is a crucial component of national food packaging standards because it offers a detailed rundown of all the vitamins, minerals, fat, and calories within a serving.

The mandatory components of every nutritional label are the serving size, servings per package, and measurements (both in weight and percentage of daily value) of the following:

  • Calories
  • Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total carbohydrates
  • Dietary fiber
  • Total sugars and added sugars
  • Protein
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium

Allergen Labeling

Consuming food that you know you’re allergic to can be incredibly dangerous. It may cause you to go into anaphylactic shock and have difficulty breathing. For optimal safety, food allergen labeling is an essential part of all food packaging standards. The FDA requires that food labels list any allergy-inducing ingredients or specify whether the food was produced in a building that also processes those ingredients.

The most common food allergies that impact consumers are:

  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, and pecans
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Milk

Labeling these potentially harmful ingredients on every impacted food product keeps consumers with allergies safe and healthy.

FDA Regulations for Food Packaging

The FDA is the main government body that oversees and regulates food packaging standards. All of the regulations they put in place, including the general requirements for every product package, exist because consumers need this information for their health and safety.

Failing to comply with these rules can mean legal trouble for any food supplier and may compromise their customers’ trust and loyalty.

What Are the Five Different Types of Food Packaging?

foods in different types of packaging

There are five types of food packages that manufacturers can use for sealing their products. These packaging materials vary based on the shelf-life and freshness of a product as well as their durability:

  • Cardboard food packaging is the industry’s leading material, given its sturdiness and ease of storage.
  • Paperboard packaging is similar to cardboard and remains sturdy on shelves, yet it is a lightweight solution for packaging cereal, milk cartons, and juice boxes.
  • Glass packaging offers unmatched durability for display purposes. Not only will glass packaging provide excellent sealing for food freshness, but it also allows consumers to view the product. This option is also ideal for protecting food products from outside contaminants.
  • Plastic packaging offers the most versatility since it can conform to any shape. Perishable and non-perishable food items stay fresh when suppliers use plastic packages.
  • Metal packaging is growing in today’s industry because of its impressive strength and sustainability.

Materials Used in Food Packaging

Within the different types of food packaging, you’ll find a similar set of materials. Glass packaging primarily uses jars or containers to hold pantry items like olives, pickles, and sauces. You’ll find metal packaging in the form of tin cans containing fish, chicken, beans, or vegetables, as well as metal soda cans.

Plastic, cardboard, and paperboard are more lightweight and appear in more packaging materials. If you pick up a case of water bottles, frozen food, or a prepared sandwich, each of these items will likely come in plastic packaging. Plastic bottles are one of the most popular materials, while certain food items use glossy plastic known as shrink film, and many prepared foods come in a material known as a clamshell package.

Other notable materials include paperboard boxes, flexible pouches, and skin packaging. Corrugated cardboard boxes and strapping material get the most use during shipping.

Packaging/Nutrient Claims on Food Packaging

tinned food packaging with coded nutrition label

Not all consumers look at the fine print on a food label before buying it. The nutrient claims manufacturers make on their packages must align with food packaging standards to avoid deceiving the general public. This primarily involves any advertising centered around a product’s impact on your health.

For example, no product can label itself as “low-calorie,” “sugar-free,” or “high-fiber” unless it meets a certain standard. If a product’s nutritional content aligns with industry regulations, manufacturers can display their claim anywhere on the package. However, this claim cannot use a font that is more than twice the size of the product’s Statement of Identity, which is the food’s name.

Sustainability Considerations for Food Packaging

Distributing food products in certain types of packaging may not support the environment. The industry can improve sustainability by implementing compostable packaging, using recycled material, and using biodegradable plastics. Glass and metal are extremely recyclable and sustainable, while some plastic packaging is not possible to recycle.

In addition, production plants can focus on using renewable energy and optimizing their distribution efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

International Food Packaging Standards

Specific food packaging standards may vary by country, but on a global level, similar trends are taking place. These include incorporating more recycled materials into the packaging to promote sustainability and targeting harmful chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) that may be prevalent in certain product packaging.

Public safety remains a concern for several countries, including the U.S., Canada, and France. Their authorities continue to focus on protecting infants and vulnerable people from harm by regulating the packaging materials certain products use.

As technology evolves, new ingredients and chemical compounds make their way into food packaging. Many nations are researching these novel materials and how the industry can best regulate them.

Today’s food packaging standards in the U.S. and abroad are complex but easy to accomplish when you have the right resources. TDI Packsys offers a range of automated packaging equipment that helps manufacturers stay productive. Contact us to learn more about our products or speak with a specialist.

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