/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Ouch! I was injured by impenetrable packaging

A hand with a bandaged finger

Easter eggs are generally a positive addition to my Easter, so imagine my discomfort when I inflicted a small wound on myself trying to break into the moulded plastic packaging.

Maybe this is peculiar to the Pearl household, but we seem to be forever wielding implements to try and get into food packaging or any moulded plastic that grips things like electrical goods in its jaws. Our trusty, one-toothed killer knife generally does the job, but I’m just waiting for the day I end up in A&E with multiple lacerations.

And it seems I’m not alone; the last time we had a Conversation about inaccessible packaging, the retractable knife was quite a staple in the war against plastic. Gerard Phelan shared his packaging frustrations:

‘CDs and DVDs get me worked up. They only have a covering of thin film, but it is stuck at the edge and I often find it very hard to find anything to pull. Like others I have to resort to a razor blade, but that risks damaging the case – or ME!’

The perils of pesky packaging

Funnily enough, data collected by A&E departments found that 67,000 people visited them each year due to an accident involving non-medicine packaging, costing the NHS over £12 million a year. This was thought to be the tip of the iceberg, with most people treating injuries at home. I believe this data collection stopped in the late 90s, but I suspect the injuries may not have gone away.

It’s the frustration too. I’m sure one of my incisors is worn down from trying to grind my way into food sachets. And don’t get me started on opening yoghurt pots in the sure knowledge that the dairy avalanche will hit me squarely on the front of whatever pristine garment I’m wearing.

If only I had a pound for every time my partner struggled to fight his way into a milk carton muttering: ‘If I was an old person with arthritic fingers…’

Freedom for fingers

There may be some small rays of light out there, but we’re a long way from perfect packaging. I’m sure digestive biscuit packets are better than they used to be, with those little red tabs you can pull round the top, releasing three crumbling biscuits. And what about those corned beef cans with keys – a serial offender for injuries in the late 90s – does anyone still buy them?

Joking apart, this can be a serious issue, especially for those with poor dexterity or impaired vision. Are you frustrated by impenetrable packaging? Do you avoid certain products because they’re just too much trouble? Or does it cause you or someone you know real problems?


Joanna found some fascinating packaging-related injury stats from the 1990s (PDF file)

Those corned beef cans can be painful!

Mo says:
5 April 2013

I especially liked the comment at the bottom of page 10 🙂

Les Harvey says:
8 May 2013

My bugbear is what happens whenever I injure myself on the packaging?
I cannot open the packaging around the plaster I so desperately need,
because it is covered in my slippery blood.

Sol says:
8 May 2013

I feel that this form of packing could lead to serious injury if some old or disabled person tried to open the plastic sealed packaging one finds from supermarkets. I definitely think the matter should be raised with your MP & get a campaign going to stop this unnecessary dangerous practice.

I use a small knife with a retractable blade. This will tackle most packaging with ease and in many cases there is no need to have more than 1 mm of the blade protruding.

Anthony says:
27 August 2013

If like an awe full lot of people for a lot of reasons cannot use a blade because their hands are not dexterous. Even 1 mm of blade can cause as much damage or more than opening the package.

Mo says:
5 April 2013

Another casualty of too much packaging! I wish stuff just came in brown paper and string 🙂

Packaging can be a real challenge away from home, without a knife or scissors to hand.

I recently bought an SD card and wanted to put it into a camera straight away but it was encased in tough plastic – no doubt to prevent shoplifters removing the card and leaving the packaging with its security tag. I did manage to extricate the card using a key, the only tool available, but it was a real fight.

Cass says:
8 April 2013

I find the most impenetrable packing is saved for children’s toys. We spent a huge amount of time over Christmas hacking into multiple layers of wrapping, followed by tags, binding the toy to the excessive packaging, that were almost impossible to remove.

Cinderella Barbie (I didn’t buy it!), for example, came in a cardboard box with cellophane that was impossible to open as the interior packaging was fastened to the main box, so you had to literally rip the box apart. Once I was in, the doll was attached by 9 separate pieces of wire to the back of the packaging, some of which actually went through the doll itself (into the head and back out again, meaning that the very elaborate hairdo was spoiled in getting the wire out).

Baby toys were similarly packaged. I imagine that there isn’t much of a market for stolen unpackaged small toys costing under a tenner, so there is really no need to wrap and fasten them so excessively. Ironically, the more expensive toys such as the leappads were much easier to get in to.

Clare says:
8 April 2013

Just this afternoon I was flummoxed when trying to open the packaging for my new mouse mat. I’m glad I am not alone with this issue.
Electric toothbrush heads are another I just cannot get to grips with.

I wonder how many people have cut themselves using their teeth to get toothbrush heads out of the packet. 🙁

The Oral B ones are a challenge.

Sticking plasters in individual packets with a tear-away strip on one side – that is too small to grip with your fingers as you bleed away.

It was a moment of pride when I was considered old enough to open a tin of corn beef! The roll of thin metal on the key was razor sharpe. Have not bought any for years so I don’t know how it’s done now.

Today my pet hate is the cover on ready made meals. No problem piercing them before heating in the microwave, but complete chaos trying to get the film off afterwards without spilling everything or burning my fingers. The Sainsburys ones are great – the film peels of without problem, but all the others require the use of gloves and sharpe knives. Even then there is plenty of mess. If Sainsburys can do it why can’t the others?

Clive says:
8 May 2013

Funny that- I have always found that while the film on Sainsburys’ ready meals can be peeled, what it seems to do is to separate into two layers and the layer that is left behind has no overhang to get hold of, and I always end up using a knife. (This is for where you have to peel the lid back before heating. After heating no problem as far as I am concerned – I have hardened fingers!

In the non-food area – ANYTHING IN A BLISTER PACK. The combination of cardboard and plastic seems to resist even fairly advanced tools like heavyweight scissors or craft knives

Sainsbury’s plastic olive oil bottles – the ring-pull to get the seal out of the stopper can take your finger off!
Dettol antiseptic kitchen wipes – how to find the edge of the transparent self-adhesive flap to open the packet?
What about all the products you can’t completely finish? The wine box – dismantle completely, get the bag out with the tap to the bottom corner and empty as much as possible (about half a glass usually that won’t come out when in the box), then cut the top corner off the bag, turn it upside down and tip another quarter-glass out.
Or V8 juice – open the tetrapak top corner flap and cut the end off: you get at least 50ml more out.

Next time I buy Braun toothbrushes I’m going to demand the shop opens the box for me at the check out, is just stupid really infuriating ! If only more things grew like bananas eh


I have just been looking at the packaging of the individual Oral B heads that my Braun toothbrush uses. I have fought with this for years. I now see that the card back is perforated around the perimeter, although tis is not obvious. If you push in one end, the back peels off easily – like a banana skin. Thank you for helping me to help myself. 🙂

Of course, that’s not going to help getting into the toothbrush, but they last for years.

PeterT says:
8 May 2013

Not so much the hazards of opening packaging, but why is that when you open a pack of say sliced meat, it’s always the bottom slice that is closest to the opening? That means you have to open the whole packet to get to the top slice, which in turn makes the packet less resealable. A little forethought from the manufacturers/packagers woul make it so much better.

Sue H says:
8 May 2013

The sort of flexible plastic bottles and tubes that shampoo, moisturiser, toothpaste etc come in – you cannot see when they are empty, and you cannot squeeze them efficiently to get the last drops out. I usually end up taking a serrated bread knife to them at great risk to myself. There is usually quite a lot left at the bottom.

Norman says:
9 May 2013

Most tin openers will open corned beef tins so these should not be too much of a problem. One thing I find irritating is that plastic windows in packaging are not currently recyclable (at least in my council area). This means dismantling the package to remove the window before recycling the cardboard. Why can we not have a recyclable window too? It would save a lot of bother.

I too am elderly with arthritic fingers. I struggle with M & S chilled fish and meat packaging although I have not really injured myself yet. It often has an over large tray and shrink wrap. Once I get through the first layer of shrink wrap with a sharp knife, there is another underneath. I have tried cutting the tray with scissors to get to the under wrap directly but it is too stiff mostly because of the tray raised edging. The desired object especially fish is not a pretty site by the time I have released it from incarceration. eg Kipper fillets with butter and also cod fillet bought at the same time

MichaelL says:
9 May 2013

I have experienced many of the previously commented problems: yesterday I was replacing 2 G9 Halogen capsule bulbs, which you mustn’t get fingerprints on…..try cutting through the packaging trying not to dislodge the bulb while trying to make it accessible when wearing plastic gloves! Also removing a cucumber from its plastic sleeve.
I also think that unless packaging can be easily recycled it should not be used, e.g. Tetra packs need special machines to recycle it, our council doesn’t have them so it becomes general waste. If tetra packs were threatened with a ban the manufacturers would find ways of supplying recycling machines to councils.

If you do touch the halogen bulbs, just polish them with kitchen towel or a soft cloth to remove finger marks.

Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

Laminated boards burn well. The problem is NIMBYs opposing energy recovery plants, ie incinerators. What people tends to forget about packaging is that without it, food would spoil as it happens with 30-40% of the food in the third world.

nontechy says:
9 May 2013

Sainsbury’s resealable envelopes for their wholemeal wraps although a good idea pose a real challenge. After having cut off the top along the dotted line there is very little plastic edge left to get a good enough hold to part the reseal strips. Sometimes these strips are so strongly fitted together the plastic envelopes get torn. The best way seems to be to get a small knife to part the strips at one end. I’m open to any suggestions for a safer way.

Mrs Ann Day says:
9 May 2013

Some of the things I find most awkward to open are the bottles/containers that say “to open press down and turn”. These need quite a lot of dexterity and strength in your wrist/hand. This is especially annoying when you’ve been given pills/medicine to take and can’t get into the container!!

Concerned citizen says:
23 November 2013

So, would you prefer the closure not to be child-proof so a 5 year old can go and poison himself by accident?

Mrs Ann Day says:
9 May 2013

Lipstick – when you think you’ve used up your lipstick, you will find that there is often about as much in the base of the screw up part as there was on the top. A fiddly tip is to prise out with the handle of a teaspoon all the left overs in your lipsticks, put in a egg cup and melt in the microwave. Stir the melted lipstick and choose your best lipstick containers, unscrew them down to the bottom leaving quite a lot of enpty space on top, carefully pour in the melted lipstick and put in the freezer to set. You will now have one or two new lipsticks.

Manon 1753 says:
10 May 2013

Shrink packaged fish, pull off seals on milk bottles, CD wrapping, all impossible for arthritic fingers. But the most dangerous in my book: pull off lids on cans. Call the pull off tabs, because how often do the tabs break off? How often does the lid open halfway only to get stuck, leaving one to complete the manoeuvre with one’s own fingers (and or a knife, or a screw driver or whatever is at hand) whilst trying not to cut the same fingers on the sharp side of the lid – or the tin? What was wrong with tin openers? They at least, allowed one to control the speed and to open the lid comletely, making it easy to remove. I have resumed opening tin with… and tin opener.