5 Simple Causes of Incorrect Food Labelling

Incorrect food labelling is the most common cause of food recalls globally. Although it may seem like errors in labelling food products is no big deal, there can be serious consequences from such mistakes. In this post, 

With a greater focus on food labelling by consumers and regulatory authorities, it will just be a matter of time when these errors will start costing your business.  The three main consequences for incorrect food labelling include regulatory action, product recall and consumer action.

Consequences of incorrect food packaging

Depending on your type of food business and the food products that you handle, there can be varying consequences associated with incorrect food labelling. The worst-case scenario is causing the death of one of your consumers. This can occur if the mislabelled or incorrectly packaged product contains a food allergen that the consumer may be allergic to. Other less severe consequences of incorrect food packaging can include:

  • Food recall or withdrawal
  • A loss in business revenue
  • Delayed production
  • Loss of consumer confidence in your food business and the products produced
  • An increase in business operational costs associated with rectification
  • Adverse media exposure
  • Private consumer action

Common causes of incorrect food labelling

There can be many different causes of incorrect food labelling including raw material or ingredient substitution, changes to the recipe, inadequate cleaning, change of supplier, and lack of knowledge. Let’s take a look at these in more depth.

1. Raw material/ingredient substitution

Substituting original ingredients with other ingredients due to unavailability can significantly impact your labelling and result in incorrect food labelling. Originally your label would have been developed based on a certain brand or type of ingredient. Any changes can affect both the ingredients listing and the nutritional data.

2. Changes to the original recipe

Making changes to your recipe or formulation will render both your ingredients listing and nutritional data incorrect. Any reformulation may also affect finished serving sizes and finished product weights, both of which are required for your label in the nutrition panel and product weight.

3. Inadequate Cleaning

Improper and inadequate cleaning of equipment could leave residues of food allergens behind. If these allergens have not been declared on your label or in the ingredients list, you may find your business facing a product recall or even worse killing a customer who may be allergic to certain food ingredients.

4. Change of Supplier

Changing suppliers may give your business significant raw ingredient savings however different brands may be made up of different compound ingredients (sub-ingredients). This commonly occurs with “pre-mixes” which may have different additives and allergens. A new ingredient supplier may also have different allergen exposure than your current supplier. Your finished product may have incorrect food labelling if you have not assessed the impact of the supplier and the raw material on your current product labelling.

5. Lack of Knowledge

Finally, a lack of knowledge is not a defense for not complying with the law. Regularly keeping up-to-date with labelling laws and reviewing your current labels against recipes and raw ingredient information can help your label compliance. It is imperative that you completely review all packaging proofs prior to printing and using. A simple label review process can save your business a lot of headaches and reduce your compliance risk.

Prevention strategies

Prevention is better than cure

In the words of Desiderius Erasmus “Prevention is better than cure”. So, what can you do to stop products from being packed into the incorrect food packaging in your food business? Here are a few strategies you may like to implement.

  • Staff Training: All staff should be adequately trained in packing, labelling, and packaging procedures.
  • Distinctive packaging design: If you have similar products, ensure the design of the food packaging is distinctive from each other. This was one of the problems with a previous recall related to chocolate-coated peanuts mistakingly thought to be chocolate-coated sultanas. The only visual difference was the use of the words “peanuts” or “sultanas” on the front of the pack.
  • Line clearance procedures: Whenever you change to packaging a different food product, implement effective packing line clearance checks.
  • Packaging checks: At a minimum, checks to confirm that the incorrect food packaging has not been used should be implemented on the first product packed and the last product packed, for each food product.
  • Food product release procedures: As an additional safeguard, implement product release procedures that include a check of the product packaging and label against what is inside the packaging.

To learn the basics of food labelling, click here to check out our free online webinar.

Regular monitoring is key

Effective regular monitoring and verification of all steps in the packing process are paramount. When you have multiple effective checkpoints implemented, the risk of packing the product into the incorrect food packaging is significantly minimised.

Have your say

Have you got any tips to help prevent incorrect food labelling in your food business? Have any of the issues discussed above ever occurred in your food business? Maybe you were lucky enough to identify non-conforming products before it left your facility. Share your knowledge and experience with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below this post.

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