Security takes center stage

March 22, 2003
/ Print / Reprints /
/ Text Size+
And packaging is part of the safeguard for America's prepared foods

With bioterrorism a real possibility, food industry authorities are quietly discussing what steps can be taken to increase the security of packaged foods. So daunting is the challenge, however, that one expert facetiously suggests "shrink-wrapping delivery trucks" as a distribution safeguard.

The shrink-wrap suggestion was prompted by an October incident in which the message, "Anthrax contamination," was spray-painted on a boxcar loaded with flour. The message was a hoax, but it added fuel to the food-security debate. Pre-harvest and in-plant contamination dominate the discussion. As the final link in the security chain, packaging also must be considered.

"Probably 30 to 40 percent of products in the supermarket have some type of tamper-evident feature," guesses Larry Rebedos, marketing manager at Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv. In Europe and Asia, tamper-evident packaging is more prevalent, he points out. While a certain level of security is a given in some categories, it is nonexistent in others. The bread aisle is an example, Rebedos notes: a twist-tie is all that stands between passersby and the contents of those polybags.

Bakery and dairy products make particularly inviting targets for bioterrorists, warns Ted Labuza, professor of food science and engineering at the University of Minnesota, because the packaged product is unlikely to undergo further processing and because children are primary consumers.

The vast majority of rigid packaging includes tamper-evident features, though the level of assurance varies tremendously. Drop-lock closures are used extensively with fluid milk products, and those systems tend to be less reliable indicators. Poor design can be a problem: The lip of the bottle's neck may not be sufficiently pronounced to cause the plastic ring to break. Process parameters also may be to blame: Engineer Howard Leary of Luciano Packaging Technologies, Somerville, N.J., suggests food manufacturers "validate their packaging systems and apply process controls" to ensure that rings break and seals perform as expected.

Foil liners under the cap add a higher level of security, and Billy Epperson of Portola Allied Tool, Michigan Center, Mich., a few dairy processors are asking about those systems. After the cap is applied, the bottle passes under an induction sealer unit, which uses high frequency to heat the foil and seal it to the bottle's mouth.

Absent public hysteria, rapid change is unlikely. "To some degree, food packaging secruity is a marketing issue today," notes Leary. Still, it's the last link in the farm-to-table chain and a topic for renewed scrutiny.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

Recent Articles by Kevin Higgins, Senior Editor

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.


Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

Food Engineering

Food Engineering December 2014 Cover

2014 December

In the December 2014 issue of Food Engineering read about our Fabulous Food Plant feature on the Chelten House, a new facility in Las Vegas.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

FSMA Audit

What is the is most important step you have taken to become ready for a FSMA audit?
View Results Poll Archive


Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.


FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit to learn more.