Packaging – Accessible design – Ease of opening

Society is ageing, it is estimated that by 2020 half the adult UK population with be over 50. As we age we have a corresponding reduction in our strength, dexterity and a reduction in visual acuity and some cognitive functionality. Basically, we're not as strong, less able to manipulate things and generally don't remember things as quickly or as well as we age. This creates a problem for healthcare systems as we have older people living longer with a likelihood of living in poor health for significant portion of their lives. It creates a problem for food service providers as older people are more likely to encounter problems accessing and using packaged food.

In 2015 the ISO 17480, Packaging – Accessible design – Ease of opening, was launched to aid manufacturers, brand owners, designers and others to produce packaging that better met the needs of consumers and in particular older consumers. The ISO standard has a user test protocol as part of document and an initial study revealed that it's likely that the issue of accessibility for single portion packaging is quite a significant. Eleven random packs were selected for initial testing and of those eleven; five were found to be uopenable by some proportion of the participants and a further two whilst be openable scored poorly.

This highlights the possible scale of the problem and the need for change. To that end the Taskforce is working with the HCA and the NHS to implement the testing process into the packaging food purchasing supply chain.

A 'handbook' that explains more about the problem, the detail of the testing process and useful contacts is available here to download.

Alaster Yoxall

Dr Alaster Yoxall is a Principal Research Fellow in the Art and Design Research Centre (ADRC), based within Sheffield Hallam University. He has been looking at the issues of 'openability' for over 10 years with a number of projects developing a fundamental knowledge of the mechanics of consumer packaging, including the development of bespoke strength measuring devices, measuring dexterity and the relationship to packaging accessibility and the use of eye-tracking to enhance packaging information for people with reduced visibility.

Alaster has worked with international brand owners and packer-fillers on developing more inclusively designed packaging and has presented his work in the USA, Europe, Australia and Thailand. He has been involved in the development of both the ISO and CEN standards on pack accessibility

The following suppliers have all passed the ISO

Premier FoodsPremier Foods logo

As one of the original members of the Packaging Task Force, Premier Foods felt it imperative to put one of our most popular single-portioned product ranges (Ambrosia Rice Pots & Ambrosia Custard Pots) through the ISO17480 testing process as we wanted to ensure not only did the packaging format meet the ISO guidelines, but to demonstrate we are committed to this really important initiative; designed to ensure that hospital patients and care home residents can actually open and enjoy their food; notwithstanding the obvious benefits to combat malnutrition and to encourage nutrition and hydration.

Our packaging formats were tested quickly and efficiently bu Sheffield Hallam University. We were give regular updates and feedback at the end of the testing process. I am delighted that Ambrosia Pots were given a PASS rating which we are absolutely delighted about and are now closely working with NHS Supply Chain to ensure onward communication both through the Hospital Caterers Association; the National Association of Care Caterers and other networks.


The Good Food ChainPremier Foods logo

The Good Food Chain are very pleased to have been involved with this group from the start, it was therefore a must for us to be one of the first products tested. Sheffield Hallam University were very keen to test our packaging from the outset, due its difference to mainstream sandwich packaging.
We have always tried to make our products the most user friendly patient sandwiches on the market, and the addition of the ISO17480 testing has helped us to cement that position.


JuiceworksD-Zert logoJuiceworks logo

Team Juiceworks take patient feeding very seriously & were therefore delighted when given the opportunity to join the Packaging Forum which has helped us further understand the broader issues contributed to by inaccessible packaging.

For many years we have worked independently to measure & improve the ease of opening of our range of pre-portioned Juices, Jelly & Desserts. Despite the many other considerations we are challenged which may require packaging to be adapted to help support longer shelf life or improved to enable clearer graphics we always bear one thing in mind. We work hard to produce nutritious products for patients & therefore if they cannot open the packaging there is little point in doing what we do.

We are therefore delighted that our Juiceworks Juice Portions and DZERT Jelly & Desserts pass the ISO-17480 standard. We recognise that as the standard improves so too must our packaging so we will continue to work with our supplier partners to ensure we drive improvement.

The ISO testing was conducted by Sheffield Hallamshire University who are keen to promote the huge benefits of working towards this standard.

NHSSC the HCA are also working hard to raise awareness for caterers by highlighted the availability of compliant products.