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Food and Packaging Safety

Kelle Vandenberg

by Bill Walters, Vice President of Packaging Technology

We may not think about it every time we eat a meal or feed our pet, as we prepare meals for our families, somewhere in the back of our minds is the thought “I hope the people who have touched this before me cared about its cleanliness and purity as much as I do.”  We live in an amazing world that can deliver safe, clean food from one corner of the globe to another. 150 years ago people were praying for their food supplies to hold out through the winter, now people can go to their local grocery store and bag a cornucopia of goods from all around the world any time of the year.  Did you ever wonder how your food gets there without being contaminated with something disgusting, awful or even poisonous?

It gets there clean and safe because of government and industry regulations.  From the government side, the regulations are a good example of how government can work to help protect the society who allows it to govern them.  From the industry side, rational self-interest motivates food and packaging companies to deliver food as cleanly and safely as possible to serve their customers and fend off more government actions.

Industry led efforts over the last decade or so have improved food safety by incorporating initiatives, programs, and systems such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), Safe Quality Food (SQF), Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), ISO 22000, etc. These programs identify potential ways a product can get contaminated and create procedures and rules to prevent that from occurring.  The company in question brings in a third party auditor who periodically certifies that the rules and procedures are being followed.  A top down accountability system ensures that all companies want to be certified.  Enormous companies like Wal-Mart are motivated by public pressure, the desire to sell their goods, and by government regulations to be certified.  Part of that certification is requiring all of their vendors to be certified.

Government regulations take two different approaches to ensure food safety.  The first way is a bottom up link of accountability through the food chain starting with the farmer and ending with final packing and delivery of the product.  Each entity that touches the product or whose product touches the food provides written assurance to the next entity up the chain that only approved substances in approved limits have contacted the food.  This approach is the one taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who compiles a list of substances.  These substances, limits and allowable uses of materials are in part 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR).  The second approach that some governments take emphasizes third party testing of representative samples of the products that touch food.  For an example related to PBI, one of our customers may ask us to provide a lab report certifying that a package representing the packages they receive from us was tested in final form to measure if any un-safe materials can be extracted from it.  This approach is the one used in Europe and is being increasingly implemented in Asia.

Speaking of Asia, many of our customers reading this blog may know that Asia is a source for good quality, economical food packaging and that some of PBI’s products come from there.  How do you know that packages are safe to be used for food when they are produced in countries where rigorous food safety seems to be a newer concept compared to U.S. food safety?  Is your supplier doing what must be done to ensure food safety in packages produced in Asia or other parts of the world?  Stay tuned for the next blog installment from PBi’s Packaging Technology team to learn more.