Keeping An Eye On Food Label Regulations

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Legislations governing food labelling are becoming increasingly stringent, putting pressure on beverage manufacturers to produce clearer and more accurate information on products. Vision inspection technology can be one solution to ensure all label elements are in place to meet regulation standards. By Stephen Dryer, product manager, Mettler-Toledo CI Vision

With legislations governing food labelling becoming more stringent, beverage manufacturers are under pressure to produce clearer and more accurate information about their products. In an increasingly globalised sector, with manufacturers exporting to multiple markets, it is crucial that they adhere to the correct labelling pre-requisites from all sectors. In order to meet the new regulatory demands, China and Europe have developed their own strict standards to ensure that all products sold or manufactured in their countries are compliant.

As a result, these manufacturers are under pressure to include more information than ever before, not just to ensure legislative compliance, but also to safeguard their brands against the reputational damage of a product recall. This also means that manufacturers are required to upgrade their packaging to ensure they have included all information and that consumers can understand and read it clearly.

As such, vision inspection technology plays an important role in this new world of strict labelling requirements, ensuring the highest standards of inspection for distribution. Accurate labelling also enables manufacturers and retailers to trace ingredients and products throughout the supply chain. This is imperative in the event of a product recall as the source of the problem can be easily traced and rectified.

The Asia Pacific Region will see beverage turnover amounting to US$365 billion, or 11 percent of the joint food and beverage industry in 2016. Growth is expected to be positive across the board—from soft drinks such as bottled water, carbonates and ready-to-drink tea, to the ever expanding health drinks sector. This last category is being fuelled by the rising economies in countries such as India and China, where disposable income is increasing steadily.

Alongside this growth, the regulatory landscape continues to evolve. China, for example, has developed its own strict legislation governing the information on food labelling of prepackaged food. Called China National Standard GB7718- 2011 (better known as the General Rules for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods), any manufacturer, global or local, seeking to sell their products in China must now ensure that their product labels comply with this regulation.

In turn, Chinese and other Asian exporters to foreign markets such as the European Union (EU) must ensure their labels are compliant with the regulations in the country where the product is to be sold. In the EU, this is governed by Directive 1169/2011.

What is clear is that in Asia, and elsewhere around the world, label regulations are becoming increasingly stringent. As a result, beverage manufacturers need to include more information than ever before, not only to ensure legislative compliance, but also to safeguard their brand against the reputational damage of a product recall. This information also provides consumers with the tools to make an informed decision about the beverages they consume.

Regulatory Requirements Around The World

It is important to understand the labelling requirements in different global regions. Many companies export beverage products, and as we have seen, it is vital to ensure labels are meeting the various criteria necessary to remain compliant.

In EU Directive 1169/2011, the updated legislation requires food and beverage manufacturers to highlight information about all ingredients, including any allergens that have either been used in the product or might have come into contact with it during production. The country of origin and expiration date must be clearly displayed on the package.

In addition to all of this, it is now mandatory for comprehensive nutritional information to be provided, detailing the energy content, sodium and mineral content of products. All of this data must be clearly and legibly displayed on the packaging.

BRC Global Standards Version 7 contains a new Clause 5.2, which, just like Directive 1169/2011, states that food labelling must identify and list any known allergenic materials and ingredients. It also requires manufacturers to list all raw materials used in the creation of the product, any processing aids and new product development ingredients, as well as any ingredients that may require contaminant protection.

China’s General Rule for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods contains similar requirements to those in EU Directive 1169/2011. To comply, manufacturers must ensure that their pack labels state the net quantity of product within, as well as the country of origin, ingredient and allergen information. What is missing from the General Rule though, is the requirement for nutritional facts, such as energy, caffeine or sodium content, to be included on packaging. The law does, however, stipulate that the label information be displayed in a clear and prominent manner, be indelible and legible.

All of these regulations mean that manufacturers must upgrade their packaging to ensure they feature all of the required information and to make sure that it is clearly displayed so consumers can easily read and understand it. It also means that manufacturers must find new ways of inspecting every pack on the line to ensure all information is correctly and clearly displayed to minimise the risk of damaging product recalls due to label mix-up.

Meeting Regulatory Demands

In order to meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, prudent manufacturers are now installing highperformance vision inspection technology on their production lines with the capability of inspecting every single label.

Vision inspection technology inspects labels for correct information and legibility, as well as label placement—all at high throughput speeds. Such equipment can enable manufacturers to ensure that 100 percent of their products comply with new regulations. This can go a long way towards optimising productivity for manufacturers, as well as safeguarding brand reputation.

Moreover, product inspection equipment, such as x-ray, metal detection or checkweighing, is able to remove substandard or non-compliant products from the line and prevent them from reaching end-consumers. In this instance, substandard products include those containing physical contaminants such as glass, metal or calcified bone, underor over-filled products, defect or damaged packaging, or missing components.

Overcoming Inspection Challenges

There is a range of vision equipment available on the market that can offer label inspection for manufacturers. However, no two production lines are alike, and each will come with its own challenges that must be overcome to optimise inspection precision.

For example, the range of packaging formats and label types available to manufacturers in the beverage sector is greater than ever before. Round and cylindrical packaging in particular can present a challenge to precision label inspection.

Standard vision inspection systems use up to four cameras to inspect each pack from a range of angles simultaneously. The images taken are then stitched together to produce a flattened image of the entire pack. This stitching process is good at determining correct label positioning, but when inspecting label information, it can produce imperfections in the finished image that can either mask genuine flaws in the pack label, or result in a false rejection.

With this in mind, it is important for manufacturers making use of round packaging to search for specialist vision inspection technology capable of overcoming these issues with stitching. One example to do this could be through an inspection system that can provide an alternative method for 360 degree label inspection, such as panelling.

In a system such as Mettler Toledo’s CI Vision, six or more cameras are used to produce a more detailed flattened image of the pack, which is then scanned by the system’s software for correct information and accurate printing at high speeds. The use of such specialist technology can enable manufacturers, even with traditionally challenging packaging formats, to ensure that every product on their line features labels that meet the strictest regulatory requirements.

Another key challenge that needs to be overcome by manufacturers is the growing need for increased line flexibility. More and more manufacturers are producing a range of products on the same production lines both to meet consumer demand and to boost the productivity of their factories.

In order to support this requirement for line flexibility, without compromising on regulatory compliance, manufacturers need to do more than just ensure that their label printing equipment is able to print the correct information for each of the many products made on the line. They also need to minimise the risk of incorrectly labelled products passing through the line and reaching end-consumers.

Advanced vision inspection equipment can help here by allowing manufacturers to minimise the risk of label mix-up even on lines producing a wide array of products. Some of those already on the market are capable of performing multiple forms of inspection simultaneously, thus maximising line speeds. Others could include an additional feature to store label information for a wide range of products, streamlining the set-up process for product changeovers with minimal downtime, capitalising line efficiency. This would make vision inspection solutions ideal for production lines that perform a number of short product runs for different flavours or limited edition products while also ensuring optimum compliance with new labelling regulations.

The Perfect Package

Around the world, legislation governing food labelling is becoming stricter and stricter, requiring beverage manufacturers to display more information about the contents of their products than ever before. In an increasingly globalised sector, with manufacturers exporting to multiple markets, it is crucial that they do all they can to ensure labelling is compliant in all regions relevant to their business.

Vision inspection technology can play an important role in this new world of strict labelling requirements, helping manufacturers to inspect every pack on their line to eliminate substandard packs before they leave the factory floor. Accurate labelling also enables manufacturers and retailers to trace ingredients and products throughout the supply chain. This is imperative in the event of a product recall as the source of the problem can be traced, and thus rectified.

Manufacturers should talk to product inspection experts about their labelling requirements to ensure they choose the most appropriate technology for the needs of their production line. In doing so, they will ensure they safeguard consumer health and wellbeing, as well as the reputation of their brand in each of the countries and regions they trade in, while also maximising line productivity to reduce operating costs and protect profit margins.