Skip to main content

The Top 3 Reasons for Label & Packaging Errors in Food Manufacturing

This week’s guest blog is from Marvin Magusara, who contributed insights into an area often maligned…. packaging!  The role of packaging is an important contributor to total cost of ownership, as it also impacts cube on trucks, inventory storage, product safety, regulatory compliance, and customer satisfaction. Packaging errors are often the root cause of massive recalls, excess and obsolete inventory costs, and can often be prevented through a clear error-proofing process.  Global Vision is one of the industry leaders for packaging and labelling quality control for the food, pharmaceuticals and consumer products industry. The company has worked with over 72% of the biggest companies in the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, and its customers list can be found on their website.  Here are the top 3 reasons why packaging errors occur in the food and drug industries.


Since the industrialization in the nineteenth century society has become more reliant on food packaging and labeling, as a key element of information for food products. As the food industry grew throughout the years, so have the strict requirements and regulations for food packaging and labeling.

Each individual country has their own requirements and regulations regarding packaging materials and labeling. Even though different, each country follows similar procedures, such as providing accurate information on labeling and preserving physical, chemical and sanitary integrity of food product – in regards to food packaging,

Therefore, packaging materials need to be processed and approved through the correct Agency before going on the market. Such Agencies include European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), U.S Federal and Drug Administration (FDA), and China Food and Safety Law. And labels need to be inspected constantly, to minimise the chances of error, which could lead to major losses.

Labeling and packaging errors can result in premature spoiling, cross contamination, consumer illness and fatalities, if the error primarily lies within the allergen information. Manufactures can establish a positive brand reputation, supply chain relationships and risk-free distribution, retailing and consumption of products within the food industry by means of preventing packaging and labeling errors.

These packaging and Labeling errors mainly occur due to packaging art and multiple labels, last minute information and promotional activities and human error.

Packaging Art and Multiple Labels

Packaging needs to protect the product from contamination, spoiling, facilitate the use of the product, and it needs to sell the product – and this is where packaging art comes in.

Every industry, including the food industry, use packaging art to create a brand identity, which consumers will feel comfortable buying.

Perfect example would be packaging for Pringles. We all know when opening a bag of delicious crunchy chips, there is more air in the packet than chips. However, pringles cylindrical packaging design leaves little room for air since it’s filled to the brim with delicious flavoured chips, and not only does it protect the chips from breaking, unlike in a normal bag of chips, it also provides the consumer with the satisfying feeling that they are receiving their money’s worth. And the vibrant colours, like dark green for sour cream and onion, and dark blue fore salt and vinegar, immediately attracts the consumers attention.

Designing a unique packaging art is tricky, however, if done correctly, can lead to great success in the sales department. However, some products have similar artwork or packaging design – the difference might be a letter or an added feature to the design – and that is where error can occur. In the midst of packaging inspection, the inspector might not notice the difference between two packaging design or artwork,due to the similarities, and proceed to packaging process .

In a situation like that when end inspection occurs and the error is noticed, total recall will occur and that batch will not be useable. Thus, a waste of packaging material and no profit would have been made from that batch. The same with labeling.

Labels contain all information about the product, and in the food industry labels must contain information such as: name of product, name and address of manufacturer, list and quantity of ingredient/s used, and sell-by / best before/ expiry date .

And in processed food, such as honey-glazed ham and soft cheese, labels must contain: potential allergens (such as nuts, gluten, lactose), list of additives (such as: food colouring, sweeteners, preservatives, thickening agents, and so forth). Directions on how to use the product, suitable warnings, suitable storage areas/ temperatures, net weight of the product, and amount of calories per serving.

In addition countries might differ on labeling, for example, in India a AGMARK is on the label, which is a certification mark for fresh produce, which means the produce has been approved by the Directorate of Marketing and Inspection, an agency of the Government of India.

However, all countries must adhere to the same standard Labeling regulation, and provide accurate information about the product on labeling.

Packaging art and Labeling go hand-in-hand, with the sophisticated packaging designing and all the information that must be on the labels, the chances of errors have increased throughout the years.

60% of recalls were due to labeling errors and packaging art.

Simple errors such as spelling mistakes, two similar labels placed on the wrong product, incorrect label on the incorrect side of the product, translation from one language to another is incorrect (such as from English to Portuguese). And all of these can cause high levels of interruptions in the packaging process and total recall on that product, which in turn means that the batch cannot be sold.

Many food packaging companies rely on suppliers, such as TLC Packaging (UK), JK Labels (India) and Jet label (Canada), to provide reel of labels and films. However, there is also a chance of error on their side. A splice reel of labels or films are common and if not inspected properly can cause packaging error and total recall.

Companies that supply and design packaging and labeling have proofreading software , in which they inspect the graphics and text on the packaging before printing. In a situation of high stress, it is easy to spell a word incorrectly or place an incorrect expiry date on the label, so by having multiple inspections through the software, and the error can be corrected, before printing. Thus, minimizing error and minimizing recalls.

Due to the fact that packaging and labeling is so important in the food industry, it is crucial that proper protocols and inspections are set in place to avoid error and minimize recalls, and that requirements and regulations are followed.

Last minute information and Promotional Activities

 In the food industry changes are frequent. This means we need to adapt and respond to these changes quickly, and most often at the last minute.

Meaning quick decision making, last minute information and high production demand leaves room for error.

These errors occur in the forms of text error (last minute information that is highly important hasn’t been added to the labeling and packaging), barcode error (incorrect barcode on the packaging for a specific product or barcoding is non-existent), and wrong product being mispackaged, just like Nestle’s KitKat Original Milk Chocolate Bites that were mispacked with KitKat Peanut Butter Bites. And that KitKat batch was recalled due to the product having nuts, which is an allergen, and was not stated on the label or packaging. When these errors have been detected then total recall MUST occur.

Last minute information could vary, such as a difference in amount of ingredients used in the food processing of a product, any new additives, change in name or address of manufacturer, and even promotional content can be added. Basically any information on the packaging and labeling can be changed, however, it needs to be correct.

Every country has it’s own laws about promoting of food products, such as United States have ‘The Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act)’ with sections 5 and 12, and ‘The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act ( FD&C Act which is under the FDA) with sections 201 and 403, that state any false or misleading labeling, promotional content on packaging or advertised is prohibited.

In China, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) Food Safety Law 2009 have specific regulations when it comes to promoting, since they have a unique importance to human life, advertisements, endorsements and promotions CANNOT be false or exaggerated. Food advertising cannot exploit the title or image of a professional to sell product.

Even though, every country has it’s own laws and regulations about advertising, they all come to the same conclusion – False advertising is not allowed. That is why promotional activity is a top reason for packaging error.

In most cases, the production team is briefed about the promotion at the last minute or when the packaging arrives, before production starts. In turn, this causes pressure on the production team, which leads to lack of clarity around when the promotion was meant to start and finish. This leaves a lot of room for error. In some categories promotional activities are constant, which has an impact on making sure that the right product is in the right promotional packaging. Incorrectly packaging products into packaging which still contains promotions even after the promotion has ended can lead to retailer fines, and claims for loss of income due to wrong prices being scanned at the tills. Situations like this can be very damaging for the manufacturer’s brand reputation.

Human Error

Even Though, humanity strives for perfection, humanity is still very imperfect. On average 25% to 50% of total recalls were due to human error. This means that the company has followed procedures to investigating the cause of the recall, and have come to the conclusion that eliminates production issues and confirm that the individual has the means to correct the error, but was simply unfocused.

Due to retailers pushing for all category range to have a unified look has created a variety of difficulties for the production team to ensure that the correct labels are applied to the products, and that the products are in the correct packaging.

Label artwork and packaging for all products are now commonly similar, with only a small difference, which makes it hard to distinguish one design from another. Hence, in a high speed, quick change over the food factory environment, it is very easy to select the incorrect label for a product from a big box of labels.

Total production recall can also be caused due to date code error, which was incorrectly calculated, or was changed during setup or changeover, and was not identified. This falls under Human error.


Individuals up and down the supply chain make errors every day. It’s up to the manufacture to feel confident that their systems can detect, prevent and correct these errors. Even though, manufacturers have manual and automated systems in place to check labeling and packaging, it isn’t 100% fool-proof. It’s up to the manufacture to make sure that their product is up to standard, to make profit and build reliable brands for consumers.