There has recently been a concern within the retail sector over the matter of date codes, specifically those used to indicate a products ‘best before’ or ‘sell by’ date, being susceptible to removal by a basic solvent found in many households – a bottle of nail varnish remover.
This presents a problem as unscrupulous retailers could easily remove the date codes – which, according to the new food labelling legislation, are now a legal requirement. This puts consumers at risk of purchasing sub-standard or even contaminated food products, which understandably has given rise to concern.
“Unfortunately there is no hard and fast solution,” says Rowan Beattie, Managing Director of Pyrotec, the market-leading provider of product identification solutions. Pyrotec PackMark is a division of the brand that supplies factory-level coding equipment used to print date codes. Pyrotec is the exclusive South African distributor of the international Markem-Imaje range of coding equipment.
“Any ink that is solvent-based will be able to be removed by a solvent. Unfortunately, even if a permanent ink were to exist, the retailer would still be able to apply another label over it if thus inclined,” explains Beattie. “There are other coding alternatives available – some more resistant than others – but each will have its advantages and disadvantages. It is about determining what will work best for you and your product.”
The good news is that reputable manufacturers of perishable goods are prudent about printing correct and legible date codes on every product they ship out of their factories as they aware of the damage a negative consumer experience could cause. “Pyrotec works closely with these manufacturers to ensure that they have access to the most advanced technologies available to ensure that they deliver a top-quality product,” says Beattie.
There are a number of core coding technologies currently available worldwide, which can be simplistically categorised as follows:
- Laser coders: These are used to engrave or alter the surface of a substrate, which typically removes the surface ink.
Applications: Printing bottles, cartons etc.
Advantages: This is the only form of coding that is permanent.
Disadvantages: Not suitable for all substrates such as reverse-printed packaging.
Applications: Flexible film printing.
Advantages: There are several types of inks available that vary in degrees of durability, such as those which partially migrate to the surface of a substrate and provide optimized adhesion.
Disadvantages: Can be removed by most solvents.
- Thermal transfer coding: Different grades of ribbon are available, including resin-based options which are more resilient.
Applications: Flexible film printing.
Advantages: Thermal transfer coding requires that the film is printed in roll form, making it difficult for the product to be re-coded with the same technology and thus tampered with once in its final form.
Disadvantages: Can be removed by most solvents. Resin offers greater code durability, but is more costly and can restrict operating speeds.
“There is constant innovation and development in the market as we seek to find the consummate solution. As brand owners, we need to be aware of the alternatives available and determine which technologies will best suit our products. It is vital that we keep abreast of advances in technology so as to be able to educate ourselves and ultimately the consumer,” advises Beattie. “However, it is equally important that we, as consumers, ensure that we are adequately informed. If we find that there is no “best before” date on the perishable product, or that the goods have expired, we need to report the matter to the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) for investigation. Not only should consumers insist on being informed with regards to a product’s origin, traceability, composition and quality – it is now a legal requirement that this information is made readily available.”