Globally, operator mistakes rank among the leading causes of labeling errors, resulting in expensive product recalls that can severely impact a company’s brand reputation.

On average, a manual production worker is prone to making one mistake for every 300 interactions. Despite recent advancements in automation and production, many companies still rely on manual processes to ensure accurate information is printed on products, boxes, and pallets.

As legislation governing the labeling of consumer products tightens to safeguard consumers, achieving efficiency and accuracy in your product labeling operations has become increasingly crucial.

The encouraging news is that in the Industry 4.0 era, errors stemming from manual processes are not only preventable but can be swiftly and cost-effectively eliminated without necessitating significant alterations to existing production processes. In this article, Adem Kulauzovic, Director of Coding Automation at Domino Printing Sciences (Domino), explores the application of automated coding and marking solutions to mitigate the risk of costly product recalls.

What are the origins of these errors?

In coding and marking, errors in both label selection and label management often stem from manual processes, potentially resulting in labeling mistakes on the final product:

Human error in label selection – choosing the incorrect label or applying inaccurate information to product packaging Human error in label management – inputting incorrect information into a label template intended for printing on a product

The Impact of Mistakes

Relying on manual processes can expose a production line to simple errors, creating a significant risk to manufacturing operations. Errors in product labelling can lead to the necessity of product recalls, incurring not only logistical expenses but also the potential for enduring damage to a company’s long-term value.

Consumer protection laws mandate that manufacturers and suppliers bear the costs of all product recalls. According to a study by Deloitte, food and beverage manufacturers may incur losses of up to USD$10 million due to wasted stock, logistics, and penalties resulting from a product recall.

The repercussions don’t end there—product recalls can inflict lasting harm on brand reputation and consumer relationships.

A well-established brand reputation, built over time through the delivery of quality products, can be easily undermined by a recall. As per Deloitte, a publicly-traded company may witness a stock price decline of up to 22% in the initial two weeks following a recall announcement.

Ensuring Consumer Safety

In the food and beverage sector, the proper labeling of products plays a crucial role in safeguarding the well-being of end consumers.

In the United States, approximately 250 million people consume packaged food and beverage products daily. Mislabeling poses a significant risk to consumers, as even a slight alteration in an ingredients list could result in a product containing undeclared allergens.

Product labeling requirements and recall standards are determined by the relevant government regulations of the country where a food or beverage product is sold.

In the United States, this falls under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which applies to the labeling of foods regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. In the EU, this is governed by the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC): Regulation (EU) NO 1169/2011. In the UK, the EU FIC is enforced by The Food Information Regulations 2014.

Elsewhere, more governments are enacting legislation to protect consumers.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India recently introduced a draft notification for new Labelling and Display regulations for prepackaged food and beverages. These regulations will make it mandatory for prepackaged food to be labeled with information including full ingredients lists, allergens, and relevant logos for the declaration of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.

In China, allergen labeling on pre-packaged food is currently voluntary. However, in January 2020, the Chinese National Health Commission released a draft bill, GB7718 General Rules for the Labelling for Pre-Packaged Foods, which, if passed, will make allergen labeling compulsory for all pre-packaged foods.

Failure to adhere to regulations concerning the labeling of food and beverage products can have significant consequences for manufacturers. In both the EU and the US, errors in product labeling related to allergens mandate a compulsory recall of all mislabeled products—and despite the consequences, this remains a global issue for manufacturers.

In November 2019, Stericycle’s US recall index reported that undeclared allergens on food and beverage packaging accounted for 35.5% of all mandated U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food recalls for the third quarter of 2019. This represented the highest overall cause of recall for the ninth consecutive quarter.

This issue is not unique to the US. In the first quarter of 2020, the Food Standards Agency in the UK issued 25 recalls due to undeclared allergies, including milk, eggs, nuts, and celery from many well-known brands. Similarly, in Finland, data compiled by the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) for 2019 found that undeclared allergens accounted for 27% of all product recalls.

Of course, labelling issues are not confined to the food and beverage industry; manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices are also subject to strict legislation surrounding product labeling to ensure consumer safety. Indeed, 9% of all medical device recall events in 2018—equating to over a million units—were attributed to labeling issues.

Compliance Responsibilities in Labelling

Legislation and recommendations for best practices related to the labeling of consumer products have become more stringent in recent years, placing greater demands on businesses not only to ensure that labels comply with safety regulations but also to establish systems for identifying and rectifying potential product labelling errors proactively.

Since January 2011, US businesses have been legally obligated to implement preventive measures to avoid labeling errors in food and beverage manufacturing. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates manufacturers to institute and oversee effective measures to prevent risks in production, including errors in product labelling.

Internationally, the International Food Standards and the Global Food Safety Initiative require manufacturers and retailers to establish procedures for label verification, ensuring that products are labelled correctly and in accordance with the relevant laws of the countries in which they are sold.

Meanwhile, in the UK, retailers seeking membership in the British Retail Consortium must demonstrate the presence of a system of checks to guard against product labeling errors. This includes having documented processes in place for product changeovers and alterations in batches of packaging to verify that labels applied are accurate for the packaged products.

How can Errors be Prevented?

Having pinpointed manual data entry as the primary culprit for labelling errors, the initial step towards minimizing such errors involves simplifying or minimizing the reliance on manual data entry in production lines. The solution lies in transitioning to an integrated system that ensures the synchronization of product labelling with the ongoing production order.

At its most fundamental level, companies can employ label design software to automatically populate product labels and oversee their distribution across various printers from a central location, such as a production office. This diminishes the number of data entry points on the line itself, thereby decreasing the likelihood of errors. Additionally, by substituting individual messages with a template linked to a product database, it is conceivable to reduce the number of labels being managed from hundreds to only a handful.

Domino industry 4.0 factory and cloud tablet

Introducing label templates, thereby reducing the quantity of labels required on production lines, not only simplifies the task for manual workers involved in code selection but also significantly streamlines the process of making label changes in response to legislative updates.

For instance, a recent case involved a Domino customer in the manufacturing of pre-packaged food and beverages, which needed to modify existing labels due to a barcode mandate change. With over 1500 labels, manually implementing changes to each label would have taken an entire week. However, by integrating their existing database, containing all necessary label information, into label templates, they managed to decrease their label count from 1500 to just 5. This reduction in label quantity significantly reduced the time required for updates.

The subsequent measure in minimizing errors involves establishing effective label management. By employing IoT methodology, automated coding solutions can be integrated to automatically populate label information sourced from a production management system. This approach further aids in preventing mislabelled products resulting from issues in label creation.

Integrated label management solutions can range from a basic barcode scanner used to select data from a UPC or production order to full integration with an existing MES or ERP system, enabling label creation directly from a centralized management system.

Populated labels can then be automatically transmitted to a printer without any manual intervention, reducing the risk of labeling errors and enhancing efficiency on production lines.

Validation and Vision Control

The ultimate step towards error-free coding involves implementing a validation system to ensure that all information on product labels is accurate, complete, and legible.

In contemporary high-speed manufacturing environments, manual inspection of every product has become impractical and unreliable. Instead, an integrated vision control system (VCS) can be employed to validate a product label, significantly reducing the risk of products reaching retailers with incorrect information.

Integrated cameras and a VCS can collaborate with coding automation to verify information against production orders and shift codes, thereby eliminating labeling errors. Additionally, they can provide verification for item-level serialization, enabling tracking and tracing of every pallet produced down to the case or even the individual product.

Domino’s coding automation solutions have been developed to integrate with camera systems to ensure that all necessary information is present and accurate, and that the label being produced adheres to quality standards on every product.

By examining label quality, a VCS can also guarantee that preventative measures are taken during manufacturing. For instance, it can be integrated with coding automation software to automatically halt production if a specific number of ‘no reads’ (products that the VCS fails to read) are recorded within a designated period, or if the validated label data is inconsistent with the product the system believes is being produced.

In this manner, a VCS proves to be an exceptionally effective quality control tool, delivering nearly immediate returns on investment by eradicating labeling errors and quality issues before they become problematic.

Your Ally for Flawless Coding

At Codico, we recognize the critical importance of your product labeling in your business. Likewise, we acknowledge that making substantial alterations to production processes may not always be viable. With Domino’s integrated coding solutions, you can guarantee the precision of your product labelling without requiring extensive modifications to your production lines.

Our coding automation solutions have been designed in collaboration with feedback from our customers to seamlessly integrate with current processes, employing industry standards to establish a connection between your industrial equipment and our coding and marking solutions.

Contact Our Experts Today!

If you would like to find out more about our integrated coding solutions, please get in touch. Our experts in coding automation are always on hand to discuss the specifics of your business and help identify how you can eliminate costly labelling errors from your production lines.


[i] Deloitte, “The food value chain: A challenge for the next century”, accessed 11th May 2020.

[ii] Deloitte, GMA, FMI, and GS1-US collaborative report, ‘Recall Execution Effectiveness: Collaborative Approaches to Improving Consumer Safety and Confidence’, accessed 15th June 2020

[iii] Stericycle “Q4 2019 RECALL INDEX”, accessed 11th May 2020.

[iv] Food Standards Agency, “Alerts”, accessed 11th May 2020.

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