Are the food products I am buying safe?

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FDA official talks about why good food packaging matters

Food is worth enjoying when one is assured that it is safe. This pandemic has seen the rise of online sellers of food, both freshly cooked and packaged. Specifically, for packaged food products, how do we know what we’re buying is actually safe to eat?

You can actually tell a lot by its packaging. Before we open the wrapper or the lid of a food product, its packaging should ensure us that it is properly prepared. If food packaging is done right, we are assured it is safe to eat. It often might be overlooked, but quality packaging is vital in ensuring the safety and maintaining the quality of food products, according to Timothy Mendoza, unit supervisor at the Food and Drug Administration.

“The different nature of food products require specific packaging materials that will ensure that the food, when in contact with the material, [would have no adverse] reaction,” he said, adding that improper packaging may affect the quality of food, its taste, and even its shelf life, especially with processed food.

Three checks for food packages

How should consumers determine the safety of a food product through packaging? Mr. Mendoza shared three things to consider.

First of these is the labeling information which a food product should have. These include the brand name, product name, net weight, expiration date, list of ingredients, allergen information, the names of the manufacturer, importer, and distributor, nutrition facts, and storage conditions.

Consumers must also check whether the packaging of the food is intact. For cans, one must check for any dents, bulges, rusting. For soft plastics, foils, or cartons, there should be no torn parts or any indication of entry of pests.

Lastly, the condition of the place where the food product is sold must not be overlooked. “If this is a physical condition, the sanitation must be checked, including the cleanliness of the place, the hygiene of the staff, and the appropriate storage condition of the product, among others,” Mr. Mendoza added, “And, of course, it is the right of the consumer to ask if [the sellers] have the proper permits.”

The FDA supervisor also warns against so-called ‘discounted’ and ‘overrun’ food products being sold online. These are products with no or tampered packaging and labels, with their appearance obviously deteriorated. Food products with dubious packaging information and questionable packaging conditions, Mr. Mendoza added, may pose risks on consumers through physical, chemical, and microbiological contaminations.

There have been many reports recently from consumers about sellers who try to pass off their products as branded ones, when in fact they have been adulterated and repackaged only from expired scraps.

“If the products do not pass the three checks that we have mentioned, we have to go to the side of caution and do not patronize such processed food products,” Mr. Mendoza said.

In addition, these kinds of packaging are penalizable by law and thus have corresponding sanctions. Food safety laws in the Philippines prohibit adulterated, misbranded, and mislabeled processed food products. These include Republic Act No. 3720 or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1963; Republic Act No. 9711 or the FDA Act of 2009; and the Food Safety Act of 2013. Individuals who have any tips that can lead to such illegal activities or information on potentially unregistered and suspicious food products are encouraged to e-mail FDA at eReport@fda.gov.ph.

Watch the video of the interview with FDA’s Mr. Mendoza to learn more about how good packaging matters in food.

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