picking the right labeling system for food packaging labels

Printing Product Information with a Food Labeling Machine

When it comes to food, labels are important. Food labels are designed to not only get the attention of customers but also provide the information required by food packaging laws to help consumers make smart food choices. 

From important information like trans fats and added sugars to serving size suggestions and more – there’s a lot behind the labeling solution you use, and the right food labeling machine results in accuracy, efficiency and consistency! 

In order to pick the right machine, you need several pieces of information: the type of containers you want to use, the information your food packaging labels require, and the steps you need to take to keep your employees and customers safe.

Get the Right Food Labeling Machine for Your Products

Food labels need to display several pieces of information for the product to be legal to sell. At a minimum, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a statement of identity, net contents, a Nutrition Facts panel and an ingredients list on all food products

Depending on the type of product and where you sell it in the United States, you may need to include other information, like best by dates, disclaimers about health claims and the product’s country of origin.

Label Printing Points to Consider

Should all of this vital information be pre-printed on the packaging prior to application or printed during application? Unless you have a coding machine that prints date codes directly onto the container, you’ll find that printing over pre-printed labels is usually the most practical solution. Your label supplier can print standard information on each label, including the product name and ingredients. 

Since standard information rarely changes, you should have no trouble using these labels for an extended period of time. Some information, however (like best by dates and nutrition information), changes from shift to shift or product to product. Depending on the labeling system used, this information can be printed directly onto the label before application, creating custom food labels for each product. Custom food labels ensure that this data is always correct for food packages or containers coming out of your facility.

To print this information without slowing production, the labeling machine should be equipped with a print engine. A print engine is a high-speed industrial printer that uses thermal or thermal transfer printing to apply information to each food label before application.

The print engine component of a food labeling machine can talk to other parts of your IT system to get unique information for each label. This information is then printed alongside fixed information, like a product name or graphic, making it easy to switch between products. But keep in mind that print engines only print in black (so it’s a good idea to have as much information pre-printed as possible). Pre-printing non-variable information lets you utilize color printing to make your food products stand out in the highly competitive food industry

Compatibility with Labeling Materials 

The great thing about pressure sensitive labels is that they’re fairly straightforward to the application – meaning labeling machines usually don’t have to be modified to use them. There are two exceptions, however. 

If you decide to use clear labels, you will need to switch from a light sensor to a capacitive sensor. This a capacitive sensor tells the machine the exact position of each label for precision application. You also need to make sure that your machine is compatible with the reel sizes offered by your label supplier. (At CTM Labeling Systems, our labeling machines support three standard reel diameters – 12”, 16”, and 20” – but can be modified for unusual sizes.)

Otherwise, you can freely select various adhesives, face stock and coatings to create custom food labels with the performance characteristics you need (like being waterproof). 

Container Shapes & Food Label Placement

The type of container being labeled determines the type of food label you should use and the type of labeling machine you need. There are three main designs used for food container labels:

Wrap Around Labeling for the Beverage Industry

Wrap around labelers spin the container across a label, applying the label to a rounded side. These work well with cylindrical containers, including jars and bottles. One label can cover the entire round bottle.

Merge Labelers for Containers and Packages

Merge labelers wipe the label onto the container as it is passed by the applicator. The most common type of merge labeler used on food packaging is a machine with a top-bottom split conveyor belt. It uses two merge applicators to apply top and bottom labels in one step and each applicator draws labels from its own reel. A split conveyor is a great choice for flat-sided containers!

Tamp Blow Application for Containers

A tamp blow applicator uses a pneumatic cylinder to get the label in position above the container. From there, it uses a jet of air to push the label onto the container. This method can apply labels onto recessed areas, like the lids of reusable round food containers.

Labeling Equipment and Safety

The machine you use to apply your food container or bottle labels needs to be safe, both for your employees and for the public health of customers who buy your end product.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) issues standards for all types of electrical systems, from plug designs to enclosures. A labeler with a NEMA Type 4 enclosure for electrical components is a good choice for food packaging. 

This standard requires protection from ice formation on the outside of the enclosure, making it a good choice for machines that handle cold items.

Choosing a machine with a stainless steel body prevents rust formation and paint chips flaking into food/beverage items, eliminating one more source of contamination.

The easiest way for a labeling machine to meet the OSHA standard for Control of Hazardous Energy, AKA “Lockout/Tagout” is to get a machine that already meets this standard, instead of modifying it.

Examples of Labeling Machines for Food Labels

CTM Labeling Systems offers a range of labeling machines that fit any food packaging need. Two of our most popular options for food packaging are our standard 360a Label Applicator and our 360a Top Bottom Split Conveyor:

360a Label Applicator

Our standard 360a Label Applicator can be configured for a variety of products and is available in three maximum label widths — 5”, 7.5” and 10” — to accommodate a number of label sizes used in the food industry. Buyers can also purchase modular noses (merge, tamp/blow, air-blow) instead of procuring additional machines when adapting to different application methods.

360a Top Bottom Split Conveyor

Our 360a Top Bottom Split Conveyor applies both top and bottom labels and is built specifically with food packaging in mind. It’s available with several build options, including full stainless steel construction. Since this machine handles two food packaging labels at a time, it has two monitoring screens and two stack lights to check the machine’s status at a glance. 

Get a Food Labeling System that Works for Your Business

Do you need a better solution to label your food products? Whether you need a faster way to print and apply nutrition information for single-serving packages or affix eye-catching labels, our custom food labeling machines are perfect for your needs.

Contact CTM Labeling Systems today. Our local distributors will get you set up with a labeling system that ensures maximum efficiency while complying with ever important food safety laws.