The 5 most annoying things about food packaging

The 5 most annoying things about food packaging

It can be a delicate balancing act to come up with packaging solutions to satisfy everyone

Food packaging material should be kept to a minimum.
Food packaging material should be kept to a minimum. Image Credit: Washington Post

You know how frustrating this is: All you want is a teaspoon or two of capers, but your measuring spoon is too wide to fit into the mouth of the jar. Instead, you have to dump them out into a separate bowl to measure them out, dirtying another dish in the process, and then try to get any extras back into the jar.

Feeding yourself - the shopping, cooking, cleaning, storing and eventually disposing - is already a big chore, and the packaging food comes in can have a large impact on that process. When designed well, packaging can make each stop along the way better by, say, making it easy to retrieve the portion of a product you need for a recipe or by limiting the amount of waste you need to compost, send to a landfill or recycle.

Admittedly, it can be a delicate balancing act to come up with packaging solutions to satisfy everyone - businesses and consumers - in terms of cost, usability, brand appeal, preservation of quality, convenience and environmental friendliness.

However, a few improvements could satisfy most, if not all, interested parties. I asked my colleagues and the internet to sound off on their food packaging woes, and these are the most egregious examples. Manufacturers, take note.

More packaging should be resealable

More packaging should be resealable
Image Credit: Washington Post

Such a change can help prevent food waste by making it easier to properly store items. While yes, you could simply put the food in a separate storage container once opened, which is fine by me for pantry items like flour and brown sugar, I don't want to have to constantly clean and refill a separate container for more perishable items. Bacon is a prime example, especially as someone who lives alone and tries not to cook (and subsequently eat) an entire package in one sitting. Certain brands of deli meats and hot dogs come in zip-top packaging - why not bacon?

Bagged items with a little sticker attached that is supposed to hold the bag closed but never is sticky enough is another example, along with blocks of cream cheese in foil that should be stored in an airtight container once opened - and could just as easily be sold in a tub.

Packaging shouldn't be too difficult to open

I'm looking at you, dairy cartons without a plastic twist-off cap. Though the concept of simply folding and squeezing the carton to open it is great in theory, in reality, more often than not, one must resort to cutting it open. Similarly, while I appreciate that the contents of my bag of tortilla chips or salad greens are secure, at times they are perhaps too much so. My colleague Emily Heil is often afraid she'll send the contents flying all over the place if she just uses brute force and usually opts to cut bags open instead. Lastly, most items sealed in plastic can benefit from easy-open tabs.

These might be a mere inconvenience to many, but they can be a large hindrance to those with physical limitations.

Packaging material should be kept to a minimum

Wrapping produce in plastic is often a complete waste, for example with sturdy items such as sweet potatoes.
Wrapping produce in plastic is often a complete waste, for example with sturdy items such as sweet potatoes. Image Credit: Washington Post

It's maddening anytime I open a new jar of whole herbs and spices, such as bay leaves, cinnamon sticks or nutmeg, and find a plastic shaker lid under the cap. It's a complete waste of material that at best gets recycled (consuming more resources) or at worst heads to a landfill. Bags inside boxes, i.e. most cereals, are another example of excess packaging in which the box's primary - and perhaps only - use is branding. From a business perspective, I understand how branding impacts consumer perception and purchasing, but perhaps it's time to force the consumer's hand for the sake of the environment.

Produce wrapped in plastic is another issue that people brought up when I asked for examples. In the case of sturdy items, like sweet potatoes, it is a complete waste. But for more delicate items, packaging can help extend produce's shelf life, which can have a bigger positive environmental impact than not using packaging.

A study of the cucumber import supply chain from Spain to Switzerland titled "To Wrap Or to Not Wrap Cucumbers?" by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology concludes: "Cucumber wrapping leads to food waste reduction and results in a net benefit in climate change impact in the current supply chain, even when the added impacts of the packaging are taken into account. Every unwrapped cucumber thrown away has the same impact on climate change as the amount of plastic used to wrap 93 cucumbers." This shows that it's important to look at the complete picture when considering food packaging's impact on the environment.

All cans should be stackable

Why, oh why do cans even exist that aren't designed to neatly stack on top of each other? This isn't an issue in grocery stores that have the shelf space for products to fit in a single layer, but my kitchen cabinets aren't so fortunate. It's simply a matter of making the bottom of the can slightly smaller than the top so that it nestles inside. Otherwise the cans teeter atop one another, if they're able to be stacked at all. Thankfully, most canned goods manufacturers seem to have gotten the memo, but a few don't seem to have caught on just yet.

Packaging should be easy to get food out of

Skinny jars that you can't stick a standard teaspoon in shouldn't exist.
Skinny jars that you can't stick a standard teaspoon in shouldn't exist. Image Credit: Washington Post

This should be at the very top of everyone's list. The incredibly skinny jars that you can't stick a standard tea spoon in shouldn't exist. One shouldn't have to dump out the jar of capers every time they are called for in a recipe. Simply sell them in wider jars and kitchens around the world would be much happier places.

Squeeze bottles also fall into this category, as a commenter on Twitter reminded: "Plastic mayo squeeze bottles where lots of the mayo sticks to the sides and you eventually have to cut it open to not waste," he tweeted. Consumers are paying good money for the contents within food packaging - so, manufacturers, don't make it so hard to enjoy all of it. Please.

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