A few years ago, several Subway franchisees examined hand-labeling in their restaurants. Was it efficient in terms of food rotation, adherence to expiration dates and ingredients?

What they found caused them to rethink hand-labeling and consider a standardized way to clearly label food. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires calorie and nutrition count be “clearly” labeled on all menu boards and grab-and-go food items.

“Clearly” is an important distinction. Everybody’s handwriting is different, varying in terms of letter shape, slant and readability. Here, a few pitfalls of hand-labeling.

It’s a little too artsy: Employees might enjoy the doodling that hand-labeling allows, but these operators found handwritten labels often included flowers and smiley faces, a cute luxury that added time to the process. That meant something else—prepping food, cleaning, serving customers—wasn’t getting attention. 

Confusion: Paper labels—sometimes even masking tape—lead to smearing and indecipherable labeling. Is that number a 7 or a 1? Maybe that 3 is really an 8. Handwritten labels can easily turn into a guessing game.

It’s risky: When it comes to compliance and “use by” dates, clarity is the difference between serving a good meal and making someone sick. Not being able to read someone’s handwriting could lead to a food safety and liability issue down the road, and that was a big issue for these franchisees. “Getting someone sick will cost a lot more than the price of printers,” one franchisee said.

In 2018, the FDA mandated clear labeling; it’s time for all operators to examine the options today’s technology brings—from touchscreen interfaces to software that tracks expiration dates, ingredients, nutritional information, even food waste. 

Operators can even go a step beyond that, investing in software that scientifically calculates the nutritional information of each item, storing it in the system and creating labels as needed. It’s just another way operators can ensure they’re in compliance on every single food item they’re selling.

There are a lot of innovative and products and systems out there; it’s time to stop hand-labeling.

Ryan Yost is general manager for the Printer Solutions Division (PSD) for Avery Dennison Corporation. Avery Dennison Printer Solutions responds to the unique challenges of businesses in the food, retail and fulfillment markets. Its solutions are rooted in efficiency, cost savings, food safety and sustainability through intelligent innovations that solve business problems and improve business processes.
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