Testing is the key to traceability in the packaging supply chain
The food supply chain has been a hot topic recently, with the horsemeat scandal creating a whirlwind of interest in an area which before had ticked along without very much attention at all. With more people now questioning what is in products they are picking up from their local retailer, every part of the global network is being scrutinised to analyse where improvements can be made.
Retailers are always aiming to offer their customers the best value on food products to gain the upper hand on their competitors, but the financial squeeze has resulted in tighter margins within the supply chain. The issue which the horsemeat scandal has flagged up is the lack of traceability throughout the supply chain, meaning consumers are not fully aware of what they are buying.
By scrutinising an already pressurised environment, there are worries that slack processes could lead to further scandals rather than offering a cost-effective solution.
The time for action is now
Traceability within the UK’s supply chains can be achieved with more stringent testing on our food produce. But testing should not be isolated to food alone. The complexity of the chain also includes packaging, so both consumers and industry must trust the packaging supply chain, as well as the produce itself.
Trust encompasses a number of factors; however the most important element for the packaging supply chain list is traceability. It eliminates the guesswork of plastic packaging supply, using a factual approach, combined with extensive industry experience.
A number of plastics packaging manufacturers are using high tech testing laboratories, enabling them to assure the quality of the packaging which passes through their plants.
This approach not only facilitates traceability, but can directly improve the produce found within the network. For example, the introduction of new technologies such as anti-microbial packaging highlights the potential testing and control laboratories have.
Such innovation could be priceless in the food market supply chain, as issues which have plagued the network could be eradicated. Campylobacter, the bacteria found in fresh chicken, red meat, untreated water and unpasteurised milk, is an example of an issue which has plagued the UK food network. This particular bacterium contaminates those who comes into contact with it and was directly responsible for more than 371,000 cases of food poisoning in 2009 and resulted in 88 deaths in England and Wales alone.
As consumer safety must be the number one concern in all global supply chains, any form of testing which offers innovative solutions to such obvious problems need to be looked at in-depth.
Andrew Copson, managing director at Sharpak, a thermo-forming company which has its own UK approval laboratory, says, “It’s important that we provide a safe product with integrity that the consumer can be confident in. The laboratory offers an environment in which our innovative plastic packaging can evolve in a cost-effective manor; eliminating the guesswork in the supply chain by combining vast experience with a factual, scientific approach to quality control.”
Lab testing results in transparency
Sharpak’s laboratory is responsible for taking delivery of the raw materials required for the creation of their plastic packaging products, and this is severely tested to guarantee quality before it is allowed to enter the building.
Copson explains the importance of testing packaging materials to guarantee not only the highest quality, but also the under-pinning of integrity within packaging’s space within the retail food supply chain is achieved.
“We want our customers, and by extension their customers, to be confident in the provenance of our products. The lab testing regimes that we employ are key to this.
For example, Sharpak’s business at Yate receives “several hundred” deliveries of primary raw material a year and each of these is checked thoroughly before they are even allowed to leave the delivery trucks and enter the property. If the plastic which is delivered does not meet the required standards then it is sent back.
Copson comments, “By refusing materials which do not meet the standards required, we are improving the quality of the packaging supply chain.
“If we allowed plastic to be processed without meeting the necessary standards it is likely that the repercussions would not be realised until the product is on the shelves, potentially a very costly mistake in terms of both short term financial issues and long term reputation.”
Are testing laboratories creating a sustainable future?
This type of laboratory clearly does vital work within the packaging supply chain to guarantee not only the quality of the products which pass through their doors, but also in helping the plastic packaging distributed throughout the supply chain evolves to meet the consumer’s needs.
The question of cost is one which is bound to be raised, but regardless of this, testing which equates to increased consumer trust in the supply chain is something which must be investigated.
With multi-national companies such as Tesco warning that the price of meat is likely to be raised to allow for testing of the meat produce they stock at a cost of£2million, companies may be hesitant to ring the changes and spend heavily on state of the art testing facilities. However, with the results Sharpak’s laboratory have had already and the issues currently facing the supply chain, is it wise to put a price on consumer peace-of-mind?
According to Copson, the packaging industry has seen huge improvements, which it has not always shouted about as loudly as it could: “Over the years, the plastic packaging industry has made huge steps in product innovation, efficiency in the supply chain, recycling and ensuring there is very good value for money.
“On top of all this, a focus for Sharpak is to ensure that our element of the packaging supply chain is traceable, providing peace of mind with consistency in supply, something which is especially important in today’s food environment.”
Whether such laboratories are used across the entire food market or if another solution is found; it is clear that there is no ‘quick fix’. The testing of food products and associated materials within the supply chains is vital to ensure the industry continues to evolve and consumers trust in the products they are buying.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.