Improve Security Through Food Packaging

Emerging technologies can help create a package that safeguards products from tampering and protects your brand from counterfeiting.

By Kate Bertrand, Packaging Editor

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Packaging security is essential for food processors, and not just from the standpoint of keeping food unspoiled and safe to eat. Security, in the context of packaging, covers everything from consumer tampering to bioterrorism to product counterfeiting.

Packaging security: McCormick 50-lb. bag of spices
Tamper evidence isn't just for consumers. McCormick & Co. uses a bag with a characteristic pattern of perforations and tamper-evident tabs at each seal on 50-lb. packages of seasonings it sells to food processors.

Processors and their suppliers are developing a variety of packaging technologies to keep food safe from such interference and to provide fast, thorough product tracking and tracing in the event of a recall.

Overt and covert packaging techniques are becoming more sophisticated. Overt refers to something visible on the package, such as a lot code or tamper-evident band. Covert techniques require a scanner or other device for detection. Marking packages with invisible, ultraviolet-luminescent ink is an example of covert security.

In addition, as food and beverage companies increasingly experiment with RFID to satisfy retailer demands, they are enjoying the side benefit of greater control of cases and pallets moving through the supply chain. The heightened control increases the security of products during distribution.

A fundamental reason to incorporate security features into packaging is to provide protection against malicious tampering, or at least evidence of an attempt. Tamper-evident packages typically show visible signs of meddling, such as a revealed message or a broken seal.

And tamper evidence isn't just for consumer packaging. McCormick & Co. (, Hunt Valley, Md., uses a tamper-evident feature on 50-lb. packages of seasonings, herbs, spices and other dry flavor systems it sells to food processors. The package is a multi-wall, pinch-seal paper bag.

The bag incorporates a characteristic pattern of perforations and tamper-evident tabs at each seal. It is also designed with a combination of primer and adhesive that makes fiber-tear evidence visible if anyone meddles with the package. In contrast, a typical pinch-seal bag can be resealed without detection. Exopack LLC (, Spartanburg, S.C., worked with McCormick to design the package.

Combating counterfeiters


Another level of packaging security addresses the growing, global problem of food and beverage counterfeiting. Food processors' objective is to create a package that is so difficult or expensive to imitate that counterfeiters can't succeed, or perhaps don't even try to create a knock-off.

Long a problem for luxury products such as caviar, champagne and spirits, counterfeiting is emerging as a brand-security issue for commodity consumables, as well.

"It's a big misconception that anti-counterfeiting technologies are only for the high-end market. We're working with some mass-market products that are sold even through gas stations. We are getting more and more inquiries" from food companies, says Brian Brogger, vice president at Microtrace LLC (, Minneapolis.

"The goal with package protection features is to present barriers to the counterfeiters and facilitate authentication by the manufacturer," says Doug Frazier, director of global product protection at Abbott Laboratories (, Abbott Park, Ill. "Unique packaging and tooling that involves challenging manufacturing processes play a role as they make it more difficult for criminals to make counterfeit products."

Packaging security: Microtaggant
Invisible codes can only be read under special lighting.

Abbott has developed an in-depth program to combat counterfeits of its products, which include nutritionals as well as pharmaceuticals. The company applies both overt and covert security features on many of its packages. "We constantly investigate anti-counterfeiting options and implement them as appropriate," Frazier says.

"Authenticating features can take many forms, some covert and some overt," he continues. "Overt features include color-shift inks, holograms, color-shift liquid crystals, sequential/random numbering, security threads and watermarks. Covert features include taggants, machine readable inks, digital watermarks, invisible graphics, security substrates and fluorescing particles. Each company needs to determine the best mix of these technologies for its products."

Taggants, which are traceable, microscopic particles, can be incorporated into packaging materials such as paper, plastic resins and films, adhesives and inks. Microtrace custom codes its Microtaggant particles to provide each customer with a unique fingerprint. The taggant code is a unique numeric code sequence embodied in a multi-colored, layered format.

Specialty taggants include energy-sensitive particles that, when interrogated by a hand-held reader, signal back to the device to verify authenticity. Taggants can be incorporated in various parts of the package, such as the label, container and shrink band, to provide several layers of security.

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