Selecting Printing Inks for Food Packaging

Product marking is an important part of any food packaging operation. Not only are batch numbers and barcodes required by distribution chains, many state and federal laws also require them.

To stay compliant, it’s essential to pick the right ink for code applications. Read more to learn how.

One of the most common applications in the world of industrial printing is food packaging. Between federal regulations, retailer requirements, and an internal need for traceability, food manufacturers are frequently required to apply various markings onto their products. Lot codes, expiration dates, barcodes, and more are all placed on food packaging to fulfill these needs and educate consumers.

To mark food packaging, manufacturers often utilize continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers. Reliable, fast, and capable of 24/7 uninterrupted operation, CIJ printers like the DuraCode Keyboard are perfect for industrial production lines. However, even the best CIJ printer won’t work well if you aren’t using the right ink for the task. A poorly chosen formula can quickly lead to ink migration, illegible codes, and other traceability-destroying printing mistakes.

By understanding your substrates, dry time, and workplace conditions, you can ensure marking success.

Substrates

Plastic, paper, glass, metal—these are just some of the materials that are used throughout the food industry. As food products widely vary in packaging needs, manufacturers strategically choose their materials to:

  • Prevent product contamination or tampering

  • Maximize shelf life

  • Provide physical protection during transit, storage, and use

The differing properties between substrates make a one-size-fits-all ink formula impossible to develop. Instead, ink developers create diverse inks that are ideal for specific applications. 

Generally speaking, porous substrates like paper respond well to water-based inks. Cost-effective and reliable, water-based inks are absorbed by porous surfaces to create crisp codes. Non-porous substrates, such as plastic and metal, are unable to absorb ink at the same level making them a better fit for quicker drying, solvent-based inks.

Required Dry Time

With today’s production lines featuring high speeds and multiple machines, it’s essential to understand how different dry times will affect your operation. For example, codes can become illegible if the ink isn’t given enough time to dry. In other cases, particularly wet ink can have issues drying if on an incompatible substrate which, worst case scenario, could lead to food contamination if the packaging does not hold up to printing and the ink seeps in. So now in addition to the barcode or expiration date becoming unreadable, which puts the product in jeopardy of not abiding by regulatory standards, you now risk product contamination further costing the company more money in manufacturing.

Ink developers have fought against these problems by creating quick-drying formulas. Some of the latest offerings from InkJet, Inc, for instance, can become touch dry within 1-2 seconds and rub-resistant in around a minute.

Workplace Conditions

Industrial workplaces are prone to challenging environmental conditions, and this generalization is especially true when it comes to food packaging. Depending on what products are being packaged, food plants can feature:

  • Extreme temperatures, both low and high

  • Humidity, condensation, and/or frost

  • Excessive dryness

  • Free-flying dust particles

All of these elements can negatively affect both printer performance and code legibility. Thankfully, companies can prevent environmental problems by taking the appropriate precautions.

To avoid downtime-causing hardware problems, food packagers can use printers built with fortified enclosures. The International Electrotechnical Commission’s Ingress Protection Code classifies the degree to which metal casings and electrical enclosures resist liquid and dust. 

Printers like the Anser X1 are built with IP-rated structures that protect them against many potentially hazardous conditions.

However, even with fortified hardware, you still need an ink that offers similar environmentally resistant properties. When searching for the right ink formula, you should understand:

  • The facility’s general temperature

  • The material’s surface temperature

  • The facility’s humidity level (e.g., affecting static electricity, ink bleeding)

  • The storage space’s temperature

  • Any potentially present chemicals

By presenting this information to a knowledgeable ink partner, you will be able to find a formula that will work well in your facility.

Need Printing Inks for Food Packaging? InkJet, Inc. Is Here to Help

Proper code placement is essential to the food packaging industry. Without machine-scannable barcodes, visible expiration dates, and legible lot codes, food products can violate both retailer protocols and federal law. When these violations occur, expensive fines, recalls, and reputation-damaging reports can all arise as consequences. Fortunately, companies can protect themselves from these issues by partnering with InkJet, Inc.

Over the past three decades, InkJet, Inc. has been developing ink formulas and creating custom printing solutions to meet the needs of different industries. Within the world of food manufacturing, we have made solutions with elements of bottling, canning, flexible packaging, and more. We understand the intricacies of the field, and we know what it takes to make lasting codes on a variety of substrates. Call today to find out which formulas will work best for you.

For more information on printing inks for food packaging, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at 1(800) 280-3245.

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