Continuous ink jet (CIJ) printers are commonly used to print codes on meat and poultry products because of their versatil- ity. However, the low temperatures and high humidity typical of processing facilities in this industry can lead to printing
problems if specialized CIJ inks are not selected and managed appropriately. Picking the wrong printer and ink can lead to a variety of
issues. Risks include poor ink adhesion and low print quality, which can
lead to costly downtime and a negative impact on the bottom line.
What Causes Coding Issues for Meat & Poultry
• Cold Temperatures. Temperatures in processing facilities are kept
low to maintain the optimal shelf life of fresh meat products.
Many inks could operate reasonably well over a broad range of
temperatures. Since meat and poultry is among the coldest common operating environments, these temperatures are close to the
bottom of or below the temperature specifications of many types
of inks. Therefore, only some inks are specifically formulated to
achieve the best adhesion, durability and printer performance in
• Condensation. The meat and poultry production environment is
humid. Products and packaging may also be exposed to temperature changes throughout the supply chain. For example, a cold
product may be filled into a warmer package, or an open door
may allow warm air into the cold manufacturing environment.
This change in temperature combined with humidity in the air
can cause condensation on the products before and after coding.
Additionally, the washdown process may leave moisture on the
equipment and surrounding production lines. Only certain ink
formulations are specifically designed to penetrate the condensation to print clearly and adhere to the packaging — resisting the
tendency for the ink to either transfer onto adjacent products or
the production line conveyance systems. Water in the production
environment can also act as a solvent, inadvertently removing ink
codes before they have a chance to fully dry.
• Printer Calibration. Many meat and poultry producers store inks
in a common store room for easier total inventory management.
The storage room is typically much warmer than the production
environment. This warmer ink has a thinner vis-
cosity than the ink within the printer in the cold
production environment. Printers are calibrated
based on the viscosity of the ink when running
in a cooler environment. When the warm ink is
added to them, most printers automatically will
adjust the viscosity of the ink to its calibrated
target. While this occurs, the ink also will cool,
naturally adjusting the viscosity of the ink. It
may take some time for the ink to settle at the
calibrated level since these two
processes are happening simulta-
neously. Until the calibrated viscos-
ity is reached, performance may
be impacted and printed code quality diminished.
3 Key Considerations to Avoid Printing Problems
• Consider your ink. It is critical to select an ink that has been specifically formulated for your substrate and application. All inks are
not created equal. What may seem like small changes to your production environment can significantly impact the type of ink that
will work best for you. For example, an ink that may work well
at 10 degrees Celsius may not work well at 5 degrees Celsius. If
the product has water on it during the printing process, inks with
specific condensation-penetrating formulations must be used.
Therefore, in addition to other characteristics such as color and
packaging material, you must have a detailed understanding of
the environment to pick the ink that is best for you.
• Consider your printer. Some printers are designed to work in
the difficult environment of the meat and poultry industry. These
printers are adept at solving some of the ink issues associated
with this environment. For example, they are able to quickly and
automatically calibrate ink in these temperatures. The best printers
store more than one cartridge of ink inside the core. When a warm
ink or makeup cartridge is inserted into the printer, the warm fluid
is slowly added in very small increments to the larger volume of
ink in the core that has already cooled to the temperature of the
environment. As a result, this process has a minimal effect on the
viscosity of the ink in the printer, limiting printing problems.
• Consider your processes. It may be possible to alter your production processes for better ink performance. For example, the printer could be moved to a location on the line where condensation
is less likely to form on the packaging, no longer requiring an ink
that must penetrate condensation. Also, the location of the printer can be moved outside of the cold and humid environment to
another location in the facility. Any move of printer location could
impact your ink needs. For example, specialized inks for the tough
environment may no longer be needed in this new, more temperate environment.
In addition, make sure to choose a vendor that has installation
expertise and the widest selection of inks. Provide samples of all the
materials you’ll be printing on, and have your vendor use their expertise to test one or more different inks to help select the best one for
the application. Solutions are available to solve potential issues that
may be encountered in cold and humid meat and poultry environments, but the key is finding the right one that’s comprehensive and
customized for your needs. ◆
Performance in Meat
& Poultry Environments
Lindsay Galas, Global Marketing Manager, Meat and Poultry, Videojet