From the farm to the fork
Nowadays, consumers seek both quality and safety in the products they buy and consume. Companies in the food and drink industry need reliable and efficient coding systems in order to guarantee the quality of their fruit and vegetable and to locate production batches quickly and accurately, in case they need to be removed urgently from circulation.
Such coding systems have been developed to control the traceability of food products from the farm to the table, or as it is known commonly in the sector, “From the farm to the fork”.
The objective is to maintain an exhaustive control of all the products from their origin to their point of distribution. This control starts on the farm for agricultural products (both animals and fruit and vegetables), passes through the food processing industries, ends in the shops where they are distributed to the consumers, and includes all the agents that intervene in their transport and logistics.
Coding and marking technologies in the food industry
The fruit and vegetable industry is one of the sectors for which Macsa ID develops coding and marking solutions. The diverse needs of each product are attended to by offering different technologies suitable for each substrate and material.
Although ink coding has traditionally been the most widespread technology in the food and drink industry, laser coding is gaining ground thanks to its versatility, permanence, cleanliness and durability.
Its uses range from marking and coding on fruit and vegetable trays, to processes such as cutting or micro perforation of plastic film to ensure the circulation of air inside fruit containers such as strawberries.
Macsa ID also has a wide range of directed labelling machines in the food industry, mainly used for primary packaging (boxes) and secondary packaging (pallets).
Coding directly on the product
Laser marking opens up new possibilities for the food industry in terms of coding, such as direct coding on the product’s skin.
Baptised in the industry as “natural branding”, the philosophy of this new coding directly on the product has its origin in the interest of consumers to return to buying products in bulk or by units. This trend is closely related to the wish of these consumers to reduce packaging as much as possible and, especially, the amount of plastic associated with the products they take home. However, the total elimination of packaging is not possible due to European regulations requiring coding and traceability.
In order to address the needs of these types of application, the most recommended coding system is undoubtedly the laser. Coding on fruit and vegetable skin needs a system that guarantees the permanence of the codification but above all, that guarantees the product’s quality.
Traditional adhesive labels, which often fall off due to friction or movement, can be forgotten with laser marking. In addition, lasers also allow larger printing surfaces and consequently, more space for information. Despite appearing at first sight to be harmless, labels generate enormous savings in plastic, energy and CO2 emissions with their elimination.
Laser marking is a totally safe system for fruit and vegetables. But it has generated certain concerns that have led the countries in which it is already used to carry out studies to corroborate the fact that it safeguards product quality. The initial doubt, was whether the laser process could damage the fruit skin, making tiny holes that could serve as portals for bacteria and other contaminants or even cause water loss. However, a study published in the journal HortTechnology refutes this: the carbon dioxide laser only affects the first layers of fruit cells. It is a totally safe system sanitarily speaking, in addition to being permanent, non-transferable, and tamper proof.
An article in The Guardian explains how Swedish supermarkets have replaced adhesive labels with laser marking and how by using this new system for all organic avocados sold in a year would save 200 km of 30cm wide plastic.
In addition, it is pointed out that laser technology also produces 1% of the carbon emissions needed to produce a label of a similar size. It seems little but there is a significant reduction of paper, ink, glue, in addition to the energy used in cutting the labels and transporting them.
The initial cost of the laser is considerable, but after the initial investment, it is more cost-effective than labelling. Moreover, it is worthwhile as a future investment as it reduces the impact of food industry companies on the planet and reduces our total energy consumption.