Most packaging security experts advise using multiple layers of overt and/or covert security to protect products and brands. "We encourage layering, because it increases the difficulty of replicating the package," says Earle Ingalls, vice president of marketing and sales with Document Security Systems Inc. (www.documentsecurity.com), Rochester, N.Y.
Document Security Systems' AuthentiGuard VeriGlow technology inherently offers two levels of covert security. The package or label is printed using invisible security ink and at the same time encoded with hidden graphics or text. A special light source is used to detect the security ink's glow, and a handheld decoder lens reveals the hidden message.
Another approach is the company's AuthentiGuard Prism technology, in which a hidden image or message is printed on the package or label. The covert information cannot be seen with the naked eye; a proprietary hand-held verifier lens is needed to view the information and verify authenticity. If the label is photocopied, the hidden image is not duplicated.
'Step one in security defense'
Global statistics on the growth of food counterfeiting are scarce, but a report from the European Commission of the European Union (EU) shows EU customs personnel seized 4.4 million counterfeit "foodstuffs, alcoholic and other drinks" in 2004. This represented an increase of about 200 percent over the prior year.
According to news reports from the region, the Nestlé, Lipton and Coca-Cola brands have been particularly hard hit by counterfeiting in Europe; Knorr and Pepsi brands also have been the target of knock-offs in the EU.
Worldwide, some of the most commonly counterfeited food products include nutraceuticals, coffee, baby formula, bottled water, soy sauce and other sauces.
Jacobs brand coffee from Kraft Foods (www.kraft.com), Northfield, Ill., was the target of counterfeiting in Romania in 2002. And Abbott's Similac baby formula was the victim of counterfeiting in the U.S. several years earlier.
"Counterfeiters look for a high degree of brand equity — they pick brand names that everybody recognizes and that command a higher price — combined with ease of faking," says Carolyn Burns, global marketing manager, DuPont Security Solutions (www2.dupont.com/Packaging/en_US/products_services/brand_protection), Wilmington, Del.
In both the Jacobs and Similac episodes, codes on the counterfeit packages were instrumental in identifying the fakes. The counterfeit Jacobs packages were marked with erroneous lot codes and best-before date codes. The counterfeit labels on the fake Similac containers were marked with a non-existent lot code.
Marking primary packaging with some combination of lot code, batch number and/or date is "step one in security defense," says Jack Walsh, sales manager for security print solutions at Videojet Technologies Inc. (www.videojet.com), Wood Dale, Ill. That's true whether the security threat is from counterfeiters, terrorists or tamperers.
Walsh adds that a code "may only look like freshness dating to the consumer, but from the manufacturer's standpoint, it's an insurance policy that they made this on such and such a date," at a specific facility, and as part of a particular lot.
Ballantine Produce was not required to use RFID tags to supply Wal-Mart et al. "As you analyze the data RFID technology provides as your items move through the supply chain, there are obvious food safety, traceability and process opportunities," says the company's IT director.
If a consumer encounters a problem with a product, or if the food processor has reason to believe a batch of its product is either dangerous or doesn't meet regulatory standards, the company can use the package codes to alert distributors, retailers and consumers and to conduct a recall.
Track movement via RFID
Tracking and tracing incoming ingredients and packaging materials and outgoing finished goods have taken on a great deal more significance with the implementation of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.
Meeting the package-tracking requirements of the act requires comprehensive record-keeping and keen attention to the movement of packaging supplies through the supply chain. RFID technology is well positioned to aid in these activities.
Although security was not the original factor driving an RFID pilot program at Ballantine Produce Co. (www.ballantineproduce.com), Sanger, Calif., the company expects improved safety and security to be one of benefits of the deployment.
"We're getting data back from our retailers that show us the movement of our cases through their supply chain. So if we had to recall those RFID shipments, we could perform a container-level recall," says David Silva, director of information systems at Ballantine.
"It's much more surgical" than a recall without RFID tagging, which "would be more of a pallet-level or lot-level recall," Silva adds. "As you begin to analyze the data RFID technology provides as your items move through the supply chain, there are obvious food safety and traceability opportunities — not only that, but process improvement, especially with time-sensitive products."