This food safe symbol can be found on food contact materials, indicating that hazardous substances cannot migrate from the material to the food. Photo: Tsvetina, Fotolia.com
Did you know? Packaging symbols: What do they actually stand for
Part 1: Food safety
One of the most important functions of packaging – second only to protecting the product – is to provide information. This is primarily information about the packaged product itself. It’s a matter of telling the customer what to expect when they open the package, and this information needs to be conveyed by the brand and product name, graphics and photos, design, instructions and ingredients.
But each package has even more information printed on it – in the form of symbols. They save space and can be understood across all languages. But does everyone really know the meaning of each symbol? Probably not, because only a small number of icons follow an international standard, while others are limited to specific regions of various sizes.
It’s important, however, that they are understood not only by the actual end customers, but also by the workforce involved in manufacturing, processing, sales and distribution. Such markings can provide information about allergens or hazardous substances as well as advice on waste disposal. So it’s worthwhile to have a list of the most frequently used international symbols. Here are three that are commonly in use.
Another globally recognised icon is the food safe symbol, which can be found not only on packaging, but also on other items such as kitchen utensils, cutlery, plates, cups, etc. The combination of a wine glass and a fork, however, is often wrongly interpreted as “dishwasher-safe”. In reality, however, it tells us that the material inside the packaging is suitable for food contact.
Organisations such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) verify at regular intervals, and also on request, that any food contact materials (FCMs) are fully compatible with food items. This concerns, for instance, rubber, plastics, paper and metal. EFSA findings form the basis on which the European Commission then issues industry regulations. Further regulations are also issued at the national level.
To ensure the health of the consumer, it is vital to prevent any hazardous migration from materials to food. It means that the composition of a food item must not undergo any unacceptable change, and the product must not suffer any detrimental impact on its taste or smell.
The packaging industry and its related sectors are aware of their responsibility and have produced numerous innovative packaging solutions over the last few years, with a view to protecting food from harm. They include, for example, low-migration inks, kitchen foil and food-safe adhesives.