November/December 2019

Digital labeling can help with food recall risk

With so many issues to overcome, the need for food and beverage companies to adopt the most effective processes to ensure labels are accurate, available and compliant has never been greater.

Simply put, the benefits of a modern, digitized labeling solution are too great to ignore.

This year alone, the FDA has recorded more than 1,600 food and cosmetic recalls identified as Class 1 or Class 2 — meaning consumption of the product can lead to anything from temporary or reversible adverse health consequences to death. As of late October, more than one-third of these recalls are still ongoing. While some of these products were recalled due to contamination, many well-regarded brands issued recalls to mitigate potentially life-threatening cases of mislabeled products.

In addition to these immediate safety hazards, the food and beverage industry also faces a bevy of other pressures: the FDA’s push to overhaul nutritional labeling will be enforced during the 2020-21 period, different states are developing unique regulations on what can be labeled as meat, a heightened focus on sustainability places a greater emphasis on clearly labeling the source of products, and many medium and large-scale manufacturers have faced integration challenges during mergers and acquisitions.

Migration pains to a unified system

Change can seem daunting, and legacy sprawl can be a major hurdle to modernizing labeling, especially after a merger or acquisition. For example, many legacy labeling systems only support label printers while certain direct marking printer manufacturers only support their own brand of printers. This causes incompatibilities and major roadblocks on the path to standardization.

A disorganized assemblage of hardware also can hinder integration with manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. For instance, manufacturers working from multiple locations often handle printer integration with the MES on the local level. Therefore, they often sub-contract local integrators that must provide local IT support.

To further complicate things, many organizations simply don’t integrate direct marking devices with business systems because it is complex. Each location may use a different method for integration, making standardization and support a challenge. Various local production sites might also choose different levels of integration and even introduce manual data entry on standalone systems.

Because such sprawl is often overlooked, many companies still fail to see the large costs associated with a dislocated network and process for labeling. Fortunately, this sprawl can be mitigated drastically if you introduce a modernized label management system that can seamlessly and efficiently respond to changing consumer and regulatory compliance demands.

Digitally transforming the labeling process

When done properly, implementing a digital label management system allows manufacturers to avoid costs from fines, lost business, recalls and production delays. It can also future-proof labeling by providing scalability and minimizing dependencies on time consuming and costly IT resources.

If you’re thinking of overhauling your labeling, here are some critical benefits you should look for:

Better QA & efficiency. The right label management system should provide tools like centrally accessible pre-made templates that are available for digital change and approval workflows. This will streamline the QA process and decrease the chances of errors — leading to less recalls, wasted products and product quarantine. The right system should be able to enable faster label design and reduce the IT burden and QA costs while mitigating risk of mislabeling.

Centralized labeling. An unconnected label-printing landscape will cost excess resources, require users to create multiple label variations and may cause a version control nightmare. If you centralize labeling and integrate it with an MES or ERP system, you create a single source of truth that provides greater traceability, requires less redundant data entry and decreases the chance of labeling errors.

Interoperability. An optimal label management system should interface with a variety of labeling and direct marking printers, regardless of manufacturer. This interoperability will prevent reworking of labels, discarding products, or large upfront investments into products that won’t integrate with other systems.

To pinpoint the cost savings potential that a label management system could bring to your business, consider these questions:

  • Does the label management system support label printers and direct marking printers (CIJ)?
  • Can you reduce employee hours involved in the design and print process?
  • Can business users change label templates without the help of IT?
  • Are label change requests causing delays?
  • Can you reduce the number of label variations being used?
  • Have you ever faced penalties for mislabeling or lack of compliance?
  • Has manual data entry caused errors in labeling or marking?
  • How much do you spend reworking labels that have errors?
  • Have you ever lost business or had to waste products due to mislabeling?
  • How much do shipping delays cost?

Labeling for the future

Today’s consumers demand better allergen, nutrition and sourcing data; label regulations are constantly shifting; and the competition has never been fiercer. There’s never been greater pressure on food and beverage companies to transform their businesses operations — and labeling is one of the most crucial components.

Companies that implement a modern label management solution earlier will position themselves to more easily meet the new FDA rules of today — and tomorrow — and adapt in an agile and efficient manner.

Most importantly, they can help protect consumers, reduce labeling errors and prevent recalls.

Lee Patty

— Lee Patty is the vice president and general manager at NiceLabel Americas, where he oversees sales, project delivery and operations. He co-founded Niceware International — a NiceLabel distributor — which was acquired by NiceLabel in 2013, and Petty was added to the global team. Petty also has held sales, marketing and technical roles at Brady Corporation and Innovatec Communications.


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