How to Avoid Recalls with Good Packaging Approvals

My dog

All businesses want to avoid recalls ─ they waste time, money and effort. Packaging approvals have to be effective, and here’s how to do it.


Controlling the quality of packaging graphics is key for avoiding recalls later on. More than 19 million food units were recalled in the Q1 of 2015, according to Stericycle Inc., and the FDA pointed out to key information being missing on the packagings as the reason for the recalls, (undeclared ingredients, allergens,etc.). Missing essential information may seem idiotic, but it’s far from being so.

As the number of people in quality control increases, packaging approvals become, counterintuitively, less and less effective ─ a phenomenon better known as the “bystander effect”. For the people involved, it’s easy to relax and give up to others being in charge, best exemplified by Packaging Digest in this dramatization:

[quote style=”boxed”]Approver 1: “Looks good as-is. And if I’m wrong, one of the other approvers after me will catch any mistakes.”

Approver 2: “The last person didn’t catch anything, so I’ll quickly look it over, but she’s smart, I’m sure it’s fine. And if I’m wrong, one of the approvers after me will discover any issues.”[/quote]

Everyone thinks there’s someone else’s problem while simultaneously over-trusting others’ capacity to detect errors. This line of though is epitomized in the following statement:

[quote style=”boxed”]“Surely if we have eight sets of eyes on this package, between all of us we will find every error and correct it.”[/quote]

Which is completely and utterly false.

Packaging Approval Phases

The solution, therefore, comes down to responsibility ─ as being able to determine its starts and ends in a precise manner. Many times, this is not achieved; and that brings trouble, as evidenced in a PD workshop with a client:

[quote style=”boxed”]“Our client approached her team members, pointing to a portion of the packaging, and asked: “Who owns this? How can I be certain this information is correct?”. In some cases, her team members did not know. (…) In another instance, multiple people claimed ownership for the same single piece.”[/quote]

For recalls to be avoided, packaging approval workflows have to incorporate clear accountability measures, such as authorized specialists and unified proofing systems. Other key advice, as suggested by PD, is maintaining a clear, accessible, and easy to find source documentation, such as technical drawings and regulatory content:

[quote style=”boxed”]“Many times reviewers are not sure what to check due to lack of context, but this is easily remedied by guidance documents that detail who is requesting the change, who is approving the request and what documentation is available to support the change.”[/quote]

When combined with new software and technologies, these methodologies improve significantly the packaging approval processes. Quality results can be achieved at scale at a much faster pace when accountability is split and allocated properly, rather than blindly trusting random individuals.

In this way, the traditional statement is replaced by a much more adequate one:

[quote style=”boxed”]“This is my portion, and only I can prove the right answer to it. I am certain it’s right and confident approving.”[/quote]


Sponsored by Derprosa, leading brand in biaxially oriented polypropylene films for packaging.