Tamper-Evident Features Protect from Tainting and Sampling

From tapes and bands to light-emitting polymers, tamper-evident features protect products (and processors) from tainting and sampling.

By Kate Bertrand

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The band provides consumers with "an additional comfort factor," says Ed Farley, sales manager with Axon Corp. (www.axoncorp.com), a Raleigh, N.C.-based company that sells tamper-evident banding systems.

Pressure-sensitive seals are another option. This fall, Radlo Foods LLC (www.radlo.com), Watertown, Mass., introduced a new egg carton that incorporates a tamper-evident seal. Born Free fresh eggs have a clear PET tray that protects the eggs without hiding them. In contrast to conventional pulp cartons, the plastic trays let consumers check the eggs' integrity without opening the package.

This package is only one part of the company's focus on safeguarding Born Free eggs. Radlo uses a laser tool to etch permanent freshness and traceability codes on the shell of each egg. The codes make it possible to trace the eggs back to their source.

Security in distribution

Tamper-evident features on individual packages protect against meddling at retail. But to protect against tampering during distribution, processors need to incorporate security features at the case and/or pallet level.

This applies to the processor's suppliers, as well. It's not uncommon for food processors to refuse delivery of ingredients into their plants if the bulk packaging lacks anti-tampering features.

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) booklet "FSIS Security Guidelines for Food Processors" provides the following guidance on the topic: "All outgoing shipments should be sealed with tamper-proof, numbered seals that are included on the shipping documents. Establishments should require that incoming shipments be sealed with tamper-proof, numbered seals, and that the seal numbers be shown on the shipping documents for verification prior to entry to the plant."

3M-Matic X-Tape 2000 Stretchable Tape provides comparable load stability vs. stretch film and netting, while allowing for airflow (to prolong produce shelf life, for example) and avoiding damage to packaging that can be caused by sweating inside plastic film wrap.
The booklet also advises, "Packaging integrity of all incoming shipments should be examined at the receiving dock for evidence of tampering."

To achieve visual tamper evidence on shipping cases, the approach can be as simple as securing a strip of water-activated tape across the case's top and bottom opening. Water-activated tape bonds with the paperboard fibers of the corrugated board. When the tape is pulled away, the case shows visible signs of damage.

"The glue becomes part of the carton. Within seconds, the tape and the carton bond as one piece. It dries, and if you try to take off the water-activated tape, you'll have evidence someone tried to get into the case," says Bob Collins, product manager with Better Packages Inc. (www.betterpackages.com) Shelton, Conn.

Safeguarding soldiers

Case- and pallet-level security is important not only to processors, ingredient suppliers and retail customers but also to foodservice customers. Of those, one of the largest is the U.S. military.

"Currently we're looking at various concepts in pallet wraps — shrink and stretch wrap — that would show evidence of a breach of that pallet," says Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Moody, team leader, Advanced Processes and Packaging Team, Natick Soldier Center (www.natick.army.mil/soldier), Combat Feeding Directorate, Natick, Mass.

Further, as part of its ongoing research into tamper evidence, Natick conducted a field test of self-adhesive labels on shipping cases. Labels were placed across the openings of the cases. When peeled off, the labels left an image or phrase indicating the cases had been opened.

Unlike commercial food packages, which any number of retail employees and consumers may touch before the item is consumed, the military's Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) usually stay in the case until the time of consumption. Therefore, tamper-evident features are essential for cases.

"We're making sure that case gets to its final destination intact. Typically, once the case is opened, it's issued to soldiers," Moody explains. For the field test, Natick used tamper-evident labels, including some with holographic images, supplied by Avery Dennison Corp. (www.averydennison.com), Westlake Village, Calif., and by 3M (www.3m.com), St. Paul, Minn.

For the future

Eventually, as costs come down, the tamper-evident technologies currently used on packaging for pharmaceuticals and other high-ticket items may eventually be used on food packaging.

These tactics include covert techniques such as invisible inks, nanoprinting, and microscopic, traceable taggants. All covert tactics require specialized reading devices to reveal the marked package's integrity — or lack thereof.

"A covert tamper-evident device can't been seen without the use of special equipment. The consumer is not aware of it. But the company can view the device using an appropriate instrument and determine whether someone has tampered with the product," says Melvin Pascall, assistant professor in the Dept. of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University (www.osu.edu), Columbus, Ohio.
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