Guest Column | January 6, 2016

The Role Of Inline Coding And Printing In Food Packaging

By John Henry,

Virtually all food products need two types of information on the packaging and occasionally on the product itself. First is fixed information which does not change from day to day. Fixed information includes product name, UPC barcode, instructions, and more. The other is variable information that changes on a day-to-day or lot-to-lot basis.

We call this variable information a "code" and the process of getting it on the package, "coding.” Examples of codes include manufacturing lot number, expiration date, plant or shift ID, time stamp, and sequential or serial numbers. Some applications, chicken parts for example, use a checkweigher to weigh each package then print the weight and price on the label. Codes are most frequently human readable, alphanumeric text, but can also incorporate 1d barcodes or 2d matrix codes.

In most cases, codes are visible and intended for the customer, as well as the packager. Occasionally, codes are designed to be invisible to the customer and for internal use only. This may be to allow more space for fixed information or it may be to prevent product diversion or counterfeiting.

The variable nature of codes generally means that they must be printed inline during packaging or offline shortly before use. Generally inline printing is preferred as it eliminates both a production step and the problem of printing too many or too few coded components.

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