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15 March 2023

Primary, secondary and tertiary packaging: main characteristics and differences

All you need to know about primary, secondary and tertiary packaging

Primary, secondary and tertiary packaging are the three main types of packaging used in industry to protect products and goods. Although they are often confused, they are not interchangeable and each has a specific function in ensuring preservation and maintenance throughot the entire life cycle of products, from production to distribution to sale to the end consumer.

Let us look specifically at what primary, secondary and tertiary packaging are and their main characteristics and functions.

Primary packaging: function and requirements

Primary packaging plays an essential role in product protection as it is in direct contact with the product itself. Their main task is to protect and preserve the products contained within, keeping their characteristics intact and, in the case of foodstuffs, protecting them from any external agents that could alter their taste, texture and structure.

Primary packaging is also referred to as sales packaging because it is designed as the single unit that is purchased and consumed by the end user. This type of packagign must meet specific requirements:

  • must be adapted to the characteristics of the product and its requirements in terms of preparation, storage, distribution and use;
  • must comply with current laws, respecting the requirements of constitution and supply behaviour. For example, the reference legislation for MOCA (materials and articles in contact with food) is Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004, which defines the general requirements that packaging used to package, store, transport or consume food must have;
  • must ensure adequate protection and preservation of the product for a specific period of time, so that the product retains its organoleptic, quality and chemical properties;

What materials are used for primary packaging?

Precisely because of its direct contact with the product, primary packaging requires the utmost care and attention already in its production phase. The choice of primary packaging material depends on the preservation needs of rhe product and the specific requirements of the sector in question. For example, in the case of food sector, the primary packaging of fresh food products requires materials capable of preserving the food even for very long periods of time, isolating it from external stresse and agents, and maintaining perfectly unaltered the chemical and physical properties of the food with which it comes into contact.

One of the materials that best meets these requirements is polyethylene, a plastic material that is flexible and easy to process. The polyethylene packaging suitable for food contact proposed by Plastisac is made of safe and quality raw materials, 100 % virgin (as established by Regulation (EU) no. 10/2011), and is specifically designed for use within the production chain of industries in the food sector, both for production and for the various stages of packaging and/or transport.

Secondary and tertiary packaging: definition and functions

Secondary and tertiary packaging perform different functions to primary packaging.

In particular, secondary packaging, also know as multiple packaging, encloses the primary packaging and is intended to protect it. This type of packaging can either be sold to the end user or be used to facilitate shelf replenishment: an example is the cardboard box or the plastic package containing the bottles. Obviously, unlike primary packaging, secondary packaging can be removed without altering the characteristics of the product. Multiple packaging also has a communicative function, but the codes and information on it are intended for suppliers and logistics managers.

Tertiary packaging is also called transport packaging and, as can easily be guessed, is designed to facilitate the handling and transport of goods and products from the factory/production centre to the place of distribution. It combines several primary and secondary containers together: examples are pallets ans boxes containing other packaging. Tertiary packaging must also fulfil specifica requirements, i.e. offer protection to the multiple packages contained and facilitate the storage, shipping and interchange of goods. Generally, this packaging is not seen by consumers.

The choice of materials and packaging for one's own products must be weighed against several factors, such as type of product, intended use, transport and distribution, applicable laws and the sustainability of the packaging. This is why it is important to choose packagin suppliers that offer a full range of services, from packaging design to production.

The packaging produced by Plastisac includes not only packaging suitable for the food sector, but also safe and certified industrial packaging to ensure maximum strength and durability for different types of uses and applications. The packaging we offer is made with state-of-the-art equipment and machinery, which allow us to offer innovative and highly customised solutions, and are able to combine the most modern traceability systems (Barcode, QRcode or Unique Codes) to fit perfectly into the production chain of any company or industrial reality.

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