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Don Mac Farlane – Woolworths Foods SA

Well-considered packaging is non-negotiable for food safety by choice, not by chance

At a recent seminar organized by the International Fresh Produce Association's (IFPA) Southern Africa chapter, Don Mac Farlane of Woolworths Foods addressed its members on the indispensable role that packaging plays in food safety.

Right: Prepared vegetables packaged in fully recyclable materials chosen for its ability to remain inert under high temperatures

"Packaging acts as a frontline defence against contamination," he said, noting that its importance is not universally understood. "Increasingly, consumers and other industry bodies place pressure on brand owners and retailers to de-package goods, especially in the fresh produce space, coupled with a push to eliminate more plastic from our shelves."

Mac Farlane pointed out that these external pressures could, if not negotiated correctly, have a huge impact on food safety. "Our customers write to us about the freshness, colour, crispness and superior taste of our produce offering, yet in the consumer's mind, the connection between those properties is not always linked to the packaging."

Involve the packaging supplier from the outset
Packaging, he continued, preserves freshness, maintains hygiene standards, facilitates traceability, and ensures compliance with regulatory standards all with the primary goal to ensure food safety.

"Product packers must have an intimate knowledge of the products they package. They must know the spoilage mechanisms and how the product ages. This must then be communicated to the packaging supplier who will ensure that the solution provided is technically correct and what is offered meets those requirements."

As food supply chains become increasingly complex, the importance of technically, well thought out packaging solutions is critical in safeguarding the consumer. "Always ensure that once the packaging spec has been agreed on and tested, that the packaging supplier issues a technical data sheet (TDS) for the packaging they will be supplying," he advised. "This TDS is your reference point to ensure that all future packaging is supplied to the agreed standard."

He emphasised the involvement of the packaging supplier as early as possible. "Packaging cannot be an afterthought. Packaging, however good, will never transform bad product into a good product. However, bad packaging will inevitably transform a good product into a bad one."

Controlled atmosphere packaging

Packaging: the medium is the message
Packaging provides the vehicle for traceability; it is imperative that when food safety has been compromised, the product packer is able to isolate the product using ink jet coding, barcodes, QR codes, RFID and so on. Additionally, labelling requirements provide essential information to consumers regarding allergens, expiration dates and storage instructions, empowering them to make informed choices.

"Regulations and standards set forth by government agencies and international organizations ensure that both packaging materials and products meet safety and quality requirements, especially around direct food contact materials. In the case of packaging, compliance of these regulations ensures that packaging does not pose risks to human health and that the packaging is approved for use as intended."

Don Mac Farlane at the IFPA food safety seminar

For more information:
Don Mac Farlane
Email: [email protected]