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A sealed pack of diced pork from Tesco. It shows the cooking time, number of servings, 'display until' date, 'use by' date, weight in kg, price, price to weight ratio in both £/kg and £/lb, freezing and storage instructions. It says 'Less than 3% Fat' and 'No Carbs per serving' and includes a barcode. The Union Flag, British Farm Standard tractor logo, and British Meat Quality Standard logo are also present.
Tablets in a blister pack, which was itself packaged in a folding carton made of paperboard.

Packaging is the science, art and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use. Packaging also refers to the process of design, evaluation, and production of packages. Packaging can be described as a coordinated system of preparing goods for transport, warehousing, logistics, sale, and end use. Packaging contains, protects, preserves, transports, informs, and sells.[1] In many countries it is fully integrated into government, business, institutional, industrial, and personal use.

Package labelling (en-GB) or labeling (en-US) is any written, electronic, or graphic communications on the packaging or on a separate but associated label.


The purposes of packaging and package labels

Packaging and package labeling have several objectives[2]

  • Physical protection - The objects enclosed in the package may require protection from, among other things, shock, vibration, compression, temperature[3], etc.
  • Barrier protection - A barrier from oxygen, water vapor, dust, etc., is often required. Permeation is a critical factor in design. Some packages contain desiccants or Oxygen absorbers to help extend shelf life. Modified atmospheres [4] or controlled atmospheres are also maintained in some food packages. Keeping the contents clean, fresh, sterile[5] and safe for the intended shelf life is a primary function.
  • Containment or agglomeration - Small objects are typically grouped together in one package for reasons of efficiency. For example, a single box of 1000 pencils requires less physical handling than 1000 single pencils. Liquids, powders, and granular materials need containment.
  • Information transmission - Packages and labels communicate how to use, transport, recycle, or dispose of the package or product. With pharmaceuticals, food, medical, and chemical products, some types of information are required by governments. Some packages and labels also are used for track and trace purposes.
  • Marketing - The packaging and labels can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase the product. Package graphic design and physical design have been important and constantly evolving phenomenon for several decades. Marketing communications and graphic design are applied to the surface of the package and (in many cases) the point of sale display.
  • Security - Packaging can play an important role in reducing the security risks of shipment. Packages can be made with improved tamper resistance to deter tampering and also can have tamper-evident[6] features to help indicate tampering. Packages can be engineered to help reduce the risks of package pilferage: Some package constructions are more resistant to pilferage and some have pilfer indicating seals. Packages may include authentication seals and use security printing to help indicate that the package and contents are not counterfeit. Packages also can include anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance[7] tags that can be activated or detected by devices at exit points and require specialized tools to deactivate. Using packaging in this way is a means of loss prevention.
  • Convenience - Packages can have features that add convenience in distribution, handling, stacking, display, sale, opening, reclosing, use, dispensing, and reuse.
  • Portion control - Single serving or single dosage packaging has a precise amount of contents to control usage. Bulk commodities (such as salt) can be divided into packages that are a more suitable size for individual households. It is also aids the control of inventory: selling sealed one-liter-bottles of milk, rather than having people bring their own bottles to fill themselves.

Packaging types

Various household packaging types for foods

Packaging may be looked at as being of several different types. For example a transport package or distribution package can be the shipping container used to ship, store, and handle the product or inner packages. Some identify a consumer package as one which is directed toward a consumer or household.

Packaging may be described in relation to the type of product being packaged: medical device packaging, bulk chemical packaging, over-the-counter drug packaging, retail food packaging, military materiel packaging, pharmaceutical packaging, etc.

Aluminum can with a pull tab

It is sometimes convenient to categorize packages by layer or function: "primary", "secondary", etc.

  • Primary packaging is the material that first envelops the product and holds it. This usually is the smallest unit of distribution or use and is the package which is in direct contact with the contents.
  • Secondary packaging is outside the primary packaging, perhaps used to group primary packages together.
  • Tertiary packaging is used for bulk handling, warehouse storage and transport shipping. The most common form is a palletized unit load that packs tightly into containers.

These broad categories can be somewhat arbitrary. For example, depending on the use, a shrink wrap can be primary packaging when applied directly to the product, secondary packaging when combining smaller packages, and tertiary packaging on some distribution packs.

Symbols used on packages and labels

Many types of symbols for package labeling are nationally and internationally standardized. For consumer packaging, symbols exist for product certifications, trademarks, proof of purchase, etc. Some requirements and symbols exist to communicate aspects of consumer use and safety. Examples of environmental and recycling symbols include: Recycling symbol, Resin identification code (below), and Green Dot (symbol).


Bar codes (below), Universal Product Codes, and RFID labels are common to allow automated information management in logistics and retailing. Country of Origin Labeling is often used.

"Wikipedia" encoded in Code 128

Shipping container labeling

"Print & Apply" corner wrap UCC (GS1-128) label application to a pallet load

Technologies related to shipping containers are identification codes, bar codes, and electronic data interchange (EDI). These three core technologies serve to enable the business functions in the process of shipping containers throughout the distribution channel. Each has an essential function: identification codes either relate product information or serve as keys to other data, bar codes allow for the automated input of identification codes and other data, and EDI moves data between trading partners within the distribution channel.

Elements of these core technologies include UPC and EAN item identification codes, the SCC-14 (UPC shipping container code), the SSCC-18 (Serial Shipping Container Codes), Interleaved 2-of-5 and UCC/EAN-128 (newly designated GS1-128) bar code symbologies, and ANSI ASC X12 and UN/EDIFACT EDI standards.

Small parcel carriers often have their own formats. For example, United Parcel Service has a MaxiCode 2-D code for parcel tracking.

RFID labels for shipping containers are also increasing in usage. A Wal-Mart division, Sam's Club, has also moved in this direction and is putting pressure on on its suppliers for compliance.[8]

Shipments of hazardous materials or dangerous goods have special information and symbols (labels, plackards, etc) as required by UN, country, and specific carrier requirements. Two examples are below:

Flammable Liquid Explosives

With transport packages, standardised symbols are also used to communicate handling needs. Some common ones are shown below while others are listed in ASTM D5445 "Standard Practice for Pictorial Markings for Handling of Goods" and ISO 780 "Pictorial marking for handling of goods".

Package development considerations

Package design and development are often thought of as an integral part of the new product development process. Alternatively, development of a package (or component) can be a separate process, but must be linked closely with the product to be packaged. Package design starts with the identification of all the requirements: structural design, marketing, shelf life, quality assurance, logistics, legal, regulatory, graphic design, end-use, environmental, etc. The design criteria, time targets, resources, and cost constraints need to be established and agreed upon.

Transport packaging needs to be matched to its logistics system. Packages designed for controlled shipments of uniform pallet loads may not be suited to mixed shipments with express carriers.

An example of how package design is affected by other factors is the relationship to logistics. When the distribution system includes individual shipments by a small parcel carrier, the sortation, handling, and mixed stacking make severe demands on the strength and protective ability of the transport package. If the logistics system consists of uniform palletized unit loads, the structural design of the package can be designed to those specific needs: vertical stacking, perhaps for a longer time frame. A package designed for one mode of shipment may not be suited for another.

With some types of products, the design process involves detailed regulatory requirements for the package. For example with packaging foods, any package components that may contact the food are food contact materials.[9] Toxicologists and food scientists need to verify that the packaging materials are allowed by applicable regulations. Packaging engineers need to verify that the completed package will keep the product safe for its intended shelf life with normal usage. Packaging processes, labeling, distribution, and sale need to be validated to comply with regulations and have the well being of the consumer in mind.

Sometimes the objectives of package development seem contradictory. For example, regulations for an over-the-counter drug might require the package to be tamper-evident and child resistant[10] :These intentionally make the package difficult to open.[11]. The intended consumer, however, might be handicapped or elderly and be unable to readily open the package. Meeting all goals is a challenge.

Package design may take place within a company or with various degrees of external packaging engineering: contract engineers, consultants, vendor evaluations, independent laboratories, contract packagers, total outsourcing, etc. Some sort of formal Project planning and Project management methodology is required for all but the simplest package design and development programs. An effective quality management system and Verification and Validation protocols are mandatory for some types of packaging and recommended for all.

Package development involves considerations for sustainability, environmental responsibility, and applicable environmental and recycling regulations. It may involve a life cycle assessment[12][13] which considers the material and energy inputs and outputs to the package, the packaged product (contents), the packaging process, the logistics system[14], waste management, etc. It is necessary to know the relevant regulatory requirements for point of manufacture, sale, and use.

The traditional “three R’s” of reduce, reuse, and recycle are part of a waste hierarchy which may be considered in product and package development.

  • Prevention – Waste prevention is a primary goal. Packaging should be used only where needed. Proper packaging can also help prevent waste. Packaging plays an important part in preventing loss or damage to the packaged-product (contents). Usually, the energy content and material usage of the product being packaged are much greater than that of the package. A vital function of the package is to protect the product for its intended use: if the product is damaged or degraded, its entire energy and material content may be lost.[15][16]
  • Minimization – (also "source reduction") The mass and volume of packaging (per unit of contents) can be measured and used as one of the criteria to minimize during the package design process. Usually “reduced” packaging also helps minimize costs. Packaging engineers continue to work toward reduced packaging.[17]
  • Reuse – The reuse of a package or component for other purposes is encouraged. Returnable packaging has long been useful (and economically viable) for closed loop logistics systems. Inspection, cleaning, repair and recouperage are often needed. Some manufacturers re-use the packaging of the incoming parts for a product, either as packaging for the outgoing product[18] or as part of the product itself.[19]
  • Recycling – Recycling is the reprocessing of materials (pre- and post-consumer) into new products. Emphasis is focused on recycling the largest primary components of a package: steel, aluminum, papers, plastics, etc. Small components can be chosen which are not difficult to separate and do not contaminate recycling operations.
  • Energy recovery – Waste-to-energy and Refuse-derived fuel in approved facilities are able to make use of the heat available from the packaging components.
  • Disposal – Incineration, and placement in a sanitary landfill are needed for some materials. Certain states within the US regulate packages for toxic contents, which have the potential to contaminate emissions and ash from incineration and leachate from landfill.[20] Packages should not be littered.

Development of sustainable packaging is an area of considerable interest by standards organizations, government, consumers, packagers, and retailers.

Packaging machines

A choice of packaging machinery includes: technical capabilities, labor requirements, worker safety, maintainability, serviceability, reliability, ability to integrate into the packaging line, capital cost, floorspace, flexibility (change-over, materials, etc.), energy usage, quality of outgoing packages, qualifications (for food, pharmaceuticals, etc.), throughput, efficiency, productivity, ergonomics, return on investment, etc.

Packaging machines may be of the following general types:


Amphorae on display in Bodrum Castle, Turkey

The first packages used the natural materials available at the time: Baskets of reeds, wineskins (Bota bags), wooden boxes, pottery vases, ceramic amphorae, wooden barrels, woven bags, etc. Processed materials were used to form packages as they were developed: for example, early glass and bronze vessels. The study of old packages is an important aspect of archaeology.

Iron and tin plated steel were used to make cans in the early 19th century. Paperboard cartons and corrugated fiberboard boxes were first introduced in the late 19th century.

Packaging advancements in the early 20th century included Bakelite closures on bottles, transparent cellophane overwraps and panels on cartons, increased processing efficiency and improved food safety. As additional materials such as aluminum and several types of plastic were developed, they were incorporated into packages to improve performance and functionality.[21]

See also

Hundreds of internal links are in the Category sections at the end of the article. In addition, links related to the product being packaged are very useful, with further links. For example, foods, pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods, etc.


  1. ^ Soroka (2002) Fundamentals of Packaging Technology, Institute of Packaging Professionals ISBN 1-930268-25-4
  2. ^ Bix, L; Rafon, Lockhart, Fuente (2003). "The Packaging Matrix" (PDF). IDS Packaging. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  3. ^ Choi, Seung-Jin; Burgess (November 2007). "Practical mathematical model to predict the performance of insulating packages". Packaging Technology and Science 20 (6): 369–380. DOI: 10.1002/pts.747. 
  4. ^ Lee, Ki-Eun; Kim, An, Lyu, Lee (November 1998). "Effectiveness of modified atmosphere packaging in preserving a prepared ready-to-eat food". Packaging Technology and Science 21 (7). DOI: 10.1002/pts.821. 
  5. ^ Severin, J (July 2007). "New Methodology for Whole-Package Microbial Callenge Testing for Medical Device Trays". J. Testing and Evaluation 35 (4). 
  6. ^ Johnston, R.G. (July 1997). "Effective Vulnerability Assessment of Tamper-Indicating Seals". J. Testing and Evaluation 25 (4). 
  7. ^, “How Anti-shoplifting Devices Work”, <>
  8. ^ Bacheldor, Beth (2008-01-11). "Sam's Club Tells Suppliers to Tag or Pay". Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  9. ^ Sotomayor, R. E.; Arvidson, Kirk, Mayer, McDougal, Sheu (Aug/Sept), "Regulatory Report, Assessing the Safety of Food Contact Substances", Food Safety, 
  10. ^ Rodgers, G. B. (June 1996), "The safety effects of child-resistant packaging for oral prescription drugs. Two decades of experience", JAMA 275 (21): 1661–65 
  11. ^ Yoxall; Jason, Bradbury, Langley, Wearn, Hayes (July 2006). "Openability: producing design limits for consumer packaging". Packaging Technology and Science 16 (4): 183–243. DOI: 10.1002/pts.725. 
  12. ^ Zabaniotou, A; Kassidi (August 2003). "Life cycle assessment applied to egg packaging made from polystyrene and recycled paper". Journal of Cleaner Production 11 (5): 549–559. doi:10.1016/S0959-6526(02)00076-8. 
  13. ^ Franklin (April 2004) (PDF), Life Cycle Inventory of Packaging Options for Shipment of Retail Mail-Order Soft Goods,, retrieved December 13, 2008 
  14. ^ "SmartWay Transport Partnerships" (PDF). US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  15. ^ anon: "Packaging Matters", page 5 - 8. Institute of Packaging Professionals, 1993
  16. ^ ""Packaging Factsheet"" (PDF). INCPEN. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  17. ^ DeRusha, Jason (July 16, 2007). "The Incredible Shrinking Package". WCCO. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  18. ^ "HP DeskJet 1200C Printer Architecture"
  19. ^ "Footprints In The Sand"
  20. ^ "Toxics in Packaging". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  21. ^ Brody, A. L; Marsh, K. S (1997), Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, ISBN 0-471-06397-5 

Books, General References

  • Calver, G., What Is Packaging Design, Rotovision. 2004, ISBN 2-88046-618-0.
  • Dean, D. A., 'Pharmaceutical Packaging Technology", 2000, ISBN 0748404406
  • Fiedler, R. M, "Distribution Packaging Technology", IoPP, 1995
  • Holkham, T., "Label Writing and Planning - A guide to good customer communication", 1995, ISBN 0 7514 0361 X
  • Jankowski, J. Shelf Space: Modern Package Design, 1945-1965, Chronicle Books. 1988 ISBN 0-8118-1784-9.
  • Leonard, E. A. (1996). Packaging, Marcel Dekker. ISBN 0-8247-9755-8.
  • Lockhart, H., and Paine, F.A., "Packaging of Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Products", 2006, Blackie, ISBN 0751401676
  • McKinlay, A. H., "Transport Packaging",IoPP, 2004
  • Opie, R., Packaging Source Book, 1991, ISBN 1555215114, ISBN 978-1555215118
  • Pilchik, R., "Validating Medical Packaging" 2002, ISBN 1566768071
  • Robertson, G. L., "Food Packaging", 2005, ISBN 0849337755
  • Selke, S., "Packaging and the Environment", 1994, ISBN 1566761042
  • Selke, S,. "Plastics Packaging", 2004, ISBN 1569903727
  • Soroka, W, "Fundamentals of Packaging Technology", IoPP, 2002, ISBN 1-930268-25-4
  • Stillwell, E. J, "Packaging for the Environment", A. D. Little, 1991, ISBN 0814450741
  • Yam, K. L., "Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology", John Wiley & Sons, 2009, ISBN:978-0-470-08704-6


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