Guide to Improving Traceability in Food Manufacturing and Packaging

Modern food supply chains are more complex than ever before. In an age filled with product recalls and traceability regulations, manufacturers must follow strict guidelines to avoid expensive consequences.

Fortunately, fostering traceability isn’t hard with the right equipment.

According to the latest industry reports, the packaged food market size within the United States was worth $996 billion in 2020. Boosted by the rising profile of e-commerce and consumer demand for convenient and healthy eating options, those in food manufacturing and packaging are working in an expanding market; industry growth is expected to continue at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 4.1% until at least 2028. 

With the expansion of food sales and outlets comes an increasingly complex supply chain as well. From farms to manufacturing plants to packaging facilities and beyond, modern distribution networks now commonly take food products across international borders. Given these developments, traceability in food manufacturing is more important than ever before. 

Fortunately, fostering complete traceability isn’t difficult when one follows product reporting best practices and marks their product packaging with quality coding equipment.

The Importance of Traceability in Food Manufacturing

In today’s complex and globalized food network, manufacturers and packaging operations need to maintain complete product traceability. After all, food is a perishable good, and both retailers and consumers alike need to understand elements like:

  • Where the food originated
  • When the food was packaged
  • How long the product’s shelf-life is

Without this information, consumers can become sick from eating expired food. To prevent these scenarios, retailers rely on manufacturer-applied expiration dates to inform them of product shelf-life.

Beyond communicating product longevity, traceable food codes also play a key role in quality assurance. The CDC reports that more than 48 million Americans fall ill due to foodborne pathogens (i.e., viruses, parasites, bacteria, etc.) every year. 

In an outbreak scenario, barcodes, batch numbers, and other markings enable companies to locate all compromised products and recall them. Consequently, many retailers require that their food suppliers mark their goods with fully traceable codes. Of course, for these codes to operate as intended, they need to be:

  • Long-lasting
  • Resistant to physical and environmental factors
  • Printed at a high enough resolution to be machine-scannable

If codes are not printed with these qualities, it can lead to confusion across the supply chain, recalls, and fines for the food manufacturer/packager. Fortunately, quality equipment can ensure marking success. 

How to Improve Food Traceability With Quality Coding Equipment

To ensure that all codes are accurate, properly applied, and machine-scannable, it’s essential for food operations to utilize reliable printing equipment in their line setups. Not only will a well-constructed continuous inkjet (CJ) printer, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printer, or print-and-apply machine (PALM) help companies foster traceability, but they also aid productivity by:

  • Marking products at a faster rate than hand-labeling can compete with.
  • Streamlining label creation through IT system integration.
  • Maximizing uptime by combatting challenging environmental factors like heat, dust, and humidity.

These printers all offer distinct application capabilities to meet the needs of different line setups. Here’s how each printer type can help improve traceability in food manufacturing businesses:

Continuous Inkjet Printer 

CIJ printers like the DuraCode Touchscreen are capable of high marking speeds and uninterrupted operation. The CIJ printing process involves creating a nonstop circulation of ink within the printer. When the printer product detector detects/senses that a substrate is passing by on an assembly line, drops from the ink stream are expelled in a controlled manner to create a sharp, long-lasting code. 

With a CIJ printer like the DuraCode, food manufacturers benefit from:

  • High marking speeds around 1050 feet per minute (320 meters per minute).
  • Continuous printing 24/7 for maximum productivity.
  • Wide ink compatibility, to enable printing on numerous substrates including plastic, metal, glass, paperboard, and more.
  • Curved surface compatibility, ideal for food packaging like cans, bottles, and jugs.

Thermal Inkjet Printer 

TIJ printers are much more lightweight and compact compared to CIJ printers—the average TIJ printer weighs around five pounds whereas CIJ printers weigh up to 100 pounds when equipped with ink. This highly portable size allows TIJ printers to be easily integrated into existing line setups or operated in a mobile fashion. 

Although TIJ printers are compact, they are still able to deliver quality results. The latest TIJ models, such as the Anser X1, are able to match the speeds of certain CIJ printers by printing at 300 meters per minute. The X1 is also capable of creating higher resolution codes than many industrial printers, offering a maximum DPI of 600. This versatility enables TIJ printers to create everything from serial numbers and lot codes to detailed logos and DPI-rich data matrices. 

Built with an IP66 housing that provides complete protection against both dust and high-powered water streams, the Anser X1 is capable of placing a variety of codes on a wide range of food packaging.

Print-and-Apply System

Print-and-apply machines like the Evolabel® streamline the label-application process and eliminate the possibility of human labeling error. Line operators use PALM systems like the Evolabel to both create physical labels and automatically apply them to:

  • Primary food packaging
  • Shipping cartons
  • Large pallets

PALM systems are also designed for simple IT integration, allowing food line operators to pull label information directly from the company data network. Through these measures, PALM systems help companies improve efficiency, reduce human error, and achieve full traceability across the supply chain.

Need to Upgrade Your Marking Equipment? InkJet, Inc. Can Help

Traceability must be a top concern for any company in the food industry. Without properly applied codes and markings, food producers could end up facing expensive fines, recalls, and possibly even reputation-damaging illnesses. Fortunately, complying with traceability guidelines isn’t difficult when you have the right equipment and ink for the job. 

At InkJet, Inc. we have been helping those in the food industry achieve code compliance for decades. Offering the latest marking equipment and a diverse ink portfolio, we can help you find the best hardware to meet your unique needs. Call today to learn more. 

To learn more about traceability in food manufacturing, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at 1(800) 280-3245.

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